The Hendersons Choral Union tour of France
Thursday - July 21 - Cambridge to Paris
What a long day of doing nothing! We had breakfast in Cripps Dining Hall at Queen's College - it was nice enough, but certainly didn't have the aura of the dining halls that one sees on television programs that are set in Cambridge. Then we loaded the bus for the drive from Cambridge to Folkstone. We had space reserved for the Chunnel crossing at 1:00. We got to the loading point in plenty of time. It is quite an impressive operation - the coaches and cars are loaded onto trains, which takes about 1/2 hour, then the train starts, down a tunnel and gains speed to about 80 m.p.h. The actual crossing only takes 20 minutes. During this time, passengers can get out of their vehicles (which in the case of the coach, was desirable, because the air conditioning couldn't operate and it quickly got hot and stuffy on board).
Our hotel was located at the Place de Republique. It must have been, at one time, a government building or something like, as the exterior was very posh. Our room (we heard later we were the exception) was the smallest hotel room we've seen in a very long time - there was about 6" between the foot of the bed and the credenza. All of this space for a mere €487 per night - about $600. Our tour probably didn't pay that much, but none-the-less that is a lot of money for something little bigger than a travel trailer. Breakfast was posted as €22 each - about $27.
Jennifer told us that there were several nice bistros in the area, so we set off in search of dinner. Michelle and Jeff Short joined us - we had a lovely meal of confit de canard and roasted potatoes. For dessert, Tom and I shared a chocolate mousse. It was wonderful and the waiter, who spoke little English, was quite happy to let me struggle with French.
We returned to the hotel and asked about an internet cafe close by, as we had previously checked out the prices for internet usage at the hotel and they were very steep. We found the internet cafe close by, but it didn't do us much good - the keyboard was mapped for French speakers and was almost impossible for Tom to use.
Friday - July 22 - Paris to Chartres and return
Back on the bus. We were taken to Chartres for a concert and some sightseeing. The drive was only a couple of hours (thank heavens - we are all sick of the bus by this time). The sight of the cathedral as you come into the city is breathtaking. The cathedral dominates the city as it is on the highest point.
We deposited our concert attire in the crypt (it smelled just like one would imagine a crypt would smell - musty and dusty) then had a guided tour of the cathedral. The guide was very good and the cathedral had earphones for each visitor on the tour, so you were able to hear everything and the guide didn't have to raise her voice. The stained glass in Chartres is absolutely incredible - the blues are especially rich. Restoration was being done on some of the windows, so there was the ever present scaffolding obscuring them. What would Europe be without scaffolding?
There were carvings along the nave of the life of Christ - these were essential ways of telling the story to people who couldn't read, and they were very effective.
After the tour we had some time for lunch before rehearsal. The restaurant recommended in my guide book had gone out of business, so we ended up in a creperie close to the cathedral. The crepes were made with buckwheat flour and the menu offered many different types of fillings. They were really good.
We returned to the cathedral for rehearsal and learned that we would not be able to perform the entire Lauridsen piece as the organ wasn't available for tuning - there was a funeral scheduled and it would end just before our concert. So, the concert was briefer than originally planned by about 20 minutes.
After rehearsal, we had a little more time to explore the town - we walked around a bit, had a cup of coffee, then returned to the cathedral for the performance.
The space was extremely difficult to sing in. The sound bounced around quite a bit and most of the singers could only hear themselves and not hear those around them. Despite this, the concert went well - the audience ignored the admonishment to refrain from applauding. We heard later that the woman in charge of setting us up was really pleased with how the concert had gone.
We didn't change, but got back onto the bus with a sandwich, chips and banana while en route to Paris for our next concert, at the American Church. The church was very nice, although it was quite warm, even though the day hadn't been all that hot. The space was really great - wonderful acoustics. This is the only venue in France where we sang the entire program, sacred and secular works. The audience was super! At the end of the performance, they clapped for an encore, but we didn't have one, so left the performance area quite quickly.
After the performance, Mike Slater surprised his wife, Michelle, with a renewal of wedding vows ceremony. The brother of Anne Urlie and Mary Hilstad had joined us in Paris and he is an ordained Lutheran minister. It was very nice and Michelle was very surprised.
We left the American Church and were taken aback at the number of roller bladers streaming past - apparently this is a Friday night tradition in Paris - there were hundreds, if not thousands, of them.
Stewart and Jennifer took us on a night time drive through Paris - I have to admit, the night lights are stunning, particularly the Eiffel Tower, which is lit with lights that blink for ten minutes at the top of the hour. The streets were jammed - Paris really seemed to be in a festive mood.
Saturday - July 23 - Paris
No performances today, although we did have a rehearsal/sound check in Notre Dame.
Our first stop was a tour of the Louvre. Obviously, this is one of the great museums of the world - it was jam packed with tourists. We had a very good tour guide who took us through the highlights, but you could easily spend a week here if you were inclined to see all the treasures. I found it particularly interesting when she told us about the excavations that were done when the new entrance area (the pyramids) were added in the 1990's. They found many artifacts from the middle ages and before, when the Louvre was a fortification, including the helmet of the one the kings who was said to have thrown his helmet into the moat many years ago.
It is a shame the museum is so crowded and that so many people are clueless about getting in front of the various works of art. Once again, we have run into Japanese tourists who seem to have to have their photo taken in front of every sight they see on their vacation, even if photography isn't allowed and regardless of how disruptive they are to the rest of the visitors. It makes me cross.
Next we had a guided bus tour of Paris, taking in the top sights, but not walking around any of them. I'm particularly intrigued with the Orsay Museum, which has a collection of Impressionist paintings. Hopefully we'll be able to get there when we come back to Paris with Tom the Son (TTS).
Speaking of TTS, we called him yesterday from Chartres because we came away without Douglas Hallawell's phone number and he apparently has an unlisted ('black listed' was the term used at the hotel desk) phone number. Tom was able to contact Douglas by e-mail and we checked our e-mail and retrieved the phone number. We called Douglas and he invited us to his flat for a drink, then dinner.
We had a rehearsal in Notre Dame - it was pretty intimidating to think that we were going to be singing Sunday Mass in such a world renowned house of worship. However, the music director is well accustomed to having visiting choirs, and they have the timing and order of service worked out in exacting detail. We found out that the Mass was going to be broadcast on French radio. No pressure.
Back at the hotel, we changed and waited for Douglas to pick us up. He took us to his apartment, somewhat away from the city center. We shared a bottle of champagne, then he took us to the River Cafe, also outside the city. Tom and I each had fish and a vegetable, which were wonderful, and a raspberry and chocolate dessert. It was a very pleasant evening and an excellent meal. Oh yes - we also had a very nice Chablis with our meal.
Sunday - July 24 - Paris
Up early, dressed in concert attire, and off to Notre Dame for the 11:30 Mass. Nervous? Yes.
However, as predicted, the music director had everything worked out, so we really didn't have to worry about much. We were behind the altar, so weren't easily seen by the attendees. After some initial nervousness, we settled in and the Mass went quite well. The big surprise came at the end of the Mass - we were told to follow the priest out, and he recessed down the center aisle, preceded by a large gold cross. As we went past the attendees they began applauding - completely unexpected. Also, we found out after we were in a small chapel and being thanked by a visiting priest from America who is assigned to Notre Dame for the summer, that the cross we had followed was one that was used in the coronation of Napoleon and is immortalized in the very large painting in the Louvre by David.
We had a performance scheduled for later in the day at St. Severin, very close to Notre Dame. Tom and I didn't want to go back to the hotel and didn't want to change into street clothes, so we had a light luncheon at a bistro close to Notre Dame - the other patrons weren't particularly surprised by us showing up in concert dress. We had a nice lunch, then waited in Notre Dame, watching the crowds. We were particularly incensed by the tourist who entered the area that was set aside for prayer and have their picture taken in front of the altar. It was very disruptive. I wonder how these people would feel if we visited their places of worship and were so disrespectful.
We walked the short distance to St. Severin. It is a beautiful little church and the sound quality was quite good. Once again, the audience was wonderful. We particularly appreciated that Douglas Hallawell attended the concert. We were also pleased that a man who had attended the concert at the American Church and liked us so well that he came to this concert as well.
Douglas drove us back to the hotel, we changed clothes and turned our concert attire over to him for safe keeping so we don't have to carry it around on the rest of our holiday. Douglas took us to a charming neighborhood, Place des Vosges, not far from our hotel, where we had a nice glass of wine. Our chances of ever finding this neighborhood again are slim to none, but it was a pleasant interlude.
Douglas dropped us off at the hotel, and we prepared for the group farewell dinner, at a restaurant called Le Train Bleu.
The restaurant is in the Gare de Lyon. It is a beautiful Edwardian era room - lots of gold and velvet - very posh. We had a wonderful meal, particularly the starter, which was a tomato, guacamole and shrimp dish. It was wonderful!
We offended the other patrons when we had an 'awards' ceremony. Truthfully, we were a bit rowdy, and the French didn't appreciate our celebration, despite Jennifer Garrett's rousing rendition (customized) of "I Want Tony to Drive for Me" based on the tune "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me". Ah well, the French will never like Americans, so .....
Tomorrow Tom and I head back to England.
Meanwhile, here are some shots of the folks we traveled with. Apologies to any we missed and to those we photographed from the back.