2017年9月11日 (月)
My essay on a trip to Nohant

My essay

In Englsh

On a trip to Nohant vicinity in central France

To attend an academic piano seminar

Conducted by Prof. Yves Henry

                                                                         Of Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris

Period: August 22nd to 29th 2017

Takao Nakanishi

The Music Center Japan

September 11th, 2017

 

 

 

PREFACE

In late August we visited Paris and thence to Nohant located in central France, south of Paris three hours by train and bus in order to trace the history of lives of Frederic Chopin, famous pianist and composer for his beautiful ballade and nocturnes and his lover, George Sand. Today’s three hour-trip by train and bus corresponds to thirty hour journey by wagon in their days of the middle of 19th century.

Paris-born but country-raised Sand fell in love in Paris with urban-bred Chopin from Warsaw to elope in a sense to a “happy isle” Mallorca and returned and reposed at this Nohant, Sand’s native place.

Chopin, who was weary body and soul by being too much lionized in aristocratic society in Paris in the first half of 19th century loved this place so much that he used to come back every summer to pursue his work of composition here.

On the other hand, Sand, who came out of this rustic country with deep forests had cut a unparalleled figure in Paris as a novelist, a critic and a feminist for her outstanding judiciousness.

It was at La Shâtre near Nohant that Prof. Yves Henry of Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris kindly and generously opened his special piano seminar for us, The Music Center Japan.

On our way back from Nohant we made a half day trip in Paris where I found what the city has was completely different from what Nohant offers: it is city elegance

Appreciating the artistic standing long nurtured on stone-type culture and civilization in Paris I strongly felt that man needs both elements of country rusticity and urban elegance as Chopin and Sand had had as well as Prof. Yves Henry has.

 

This is the first trip to be followed in the coming years. Under-mentioned is my essay on this seminar trip. I hope this will serve to your interest in any way.

 

1.    Overture

Our party of 12 proceeded to the hotel from de Gaulle airport by taxi for 45 minutes at 8:30pm on August 22. The sky was still bright even at 9pm with light purple-red colors. A dull scenery continued until we reached the innermost of the city and then  we were caught in an atmosphere of what Paris spread: many tall roadside trees, brownish and beige colored buildings with chimneys on top. Few minutes later after crossing the Seine, we arrived at Pullman Paris Bercy Hotel, a posh four-star hotel very popular among ladies.

2.To central France

The following morning, a bit cold, we hurried to the old Gare d’Austerlitz,  ten-minute away from the hotel to catch the train. The car was a very tall and firm as compared with that of a Japanese bullet train and the train soon left very quietly without any announcement.

I, a novice traveler around here, was so curious about what could be seen outside of the window along the route but actually all I had seen was just a vast plain undulating like waves with some bushes or forests spread in pastoral views. The track the train runs along right now must have been the customary road Chopin used to pass by horse wagon. If so, I saw the exact same scenery as Chopin did.

3. South of Paris, two hours 15 minutes by train to Chateauroux, thence to La Shâtre by mini-bus 45 minutes

The train arrived at Chateauroux at 10:44. A prearranged micro-bus carrying all of us from there had run along a straight road in the plain on and on, passing Nohant- Vic to a small city called La Shâtre. At the entrance of the city was a hotel named Hotel du Lion d’Argent where we would stay at.

Wow, what a marvelous place? No other word I could think of to describe the place. The visitors of this city are seldom seen than those artists and musicians who pay homage to Frederic Chopin or his lover, George Sand or those car racers who are associated with Le Man rally as the city is located just amid the rally route from Paris to Nice. Instantly I had fallen in love with this rusticity. Time stops here at least. The place seemed to belong to another world, so to speak, a solarium, free from today’s busy world. Time machine carried me back to the twelfth or thirteenth century, or if you want to say, to the days of Chopin and Sand. There is no difference between the two as time ceased to advance!

The trouble is that today’s conveyance easily takes us here in a matter of three hours or so, and our brains have no time to adjust the modern mode to the old. So the busy mode had remained. Moreover, Japanese are not well accustomed to handle the land machine properly. So they are inclined to observe the place with the same eyes as they do in Japan, forgetting this is countryside in France. For a while we had to leave family rooms to live in a solarium, yet with a modern smartphone or a tablet, though.

4. Hotel du Lion d’argent

Hotel du Lion d’argent has an annex across the street for providing us with the facilities of ten rooms for lodging and piano practicing and a large seminar room equipped with a grand piano in it. Prof. Yves Henry gave his special lessons here to our students every day for consecutive three days.

 I was not a piano student but only a sightseer. What should I see, then? Was that the right way for thinking? No. Now that I have come to the solarium, I should be a meticulous observer at this place full of the heat radiated from its past of the nineteenth century hostel. The first thing I did was to lay back on a deck chair by the poolside of the hotel to look up at the sky. It was so calm and quiet. There was no wind. Christmas tree-type symmetrical big trees stood still. A thin cloud in the sky flowed very slow. An airplane darting over in cutting the blue sky, leaving a contrail looked like a bean far up there.

The small Indre river flowed gently in peace off the broad premises as to see the black shadow of small fish swimming on the bottom. An art object of a nymph was placed nearby. Yves told me, “Why not going up the right side of this river and you will find something to see”

5. What does the city of La Shâtre look like?

I strolled up the narrow street by myself with a tablet in hand to see and come across the medieval age of Europe. Everything I saw seemed to have retained the medieval condition ranging from archaic greyish/ brownish architecture to narrow stone-paved winding roads, but full of cars, some running very slow in the center and some parking at the roadsides. I hated such modern vehicles as unbecoming here but tolerated, rethinking La Shâtre is a city for car racers. A steeple of a Gothic-type church far up there had given me a sure hint that the quarter must be the center of the city. So I rambled up under the shades of buildings to aim at it. There I found a market square, very common to European cities and towns. There was a bookstore, a pharmacy and restaurant and so on, but not any convenience stores. I never failed to gaze at the rustic beauty of plain alleys ever forgotten but enriched by preserved architectural heritage. Red roses decorating the window panes of buildings, two-storied high, beige-colored nodded at me smilingly.

The following morning I came up here once again with two ladies Mrs. A and Ms. F. in dazzling morning sunlight. We stepped in the interior of the before-mentioned church, whose three-leaf clover emblem instantly stimulated them because it reminded them of a similar form of their graduated school. The interior was quite tranquil and its stained glasses were bright but rather pale than dark, which rendered it a pale atmosphere as a whole. That I loved.

 The city has a museum called George Sand Museum. I stepped in a shop to ask the way to it in French. It worked. But when we came up to the front entrance, it said,”Sorry, we are closed until next April” It gave us a bit of shock but from nowhere appeared an old gentleman, saying “Sorry. forgive us”, handing to us a bundle of the city guide papers. I deeply appreciated his sympathetic attitude toward us.

Berry where we stayed is a region located in the center of France. It was a county in Carolingian times. La Shâtre in lower Berry was born and formed in the Roman era of the 11th and 12th century which was equivalent to the Kamakura period of Japan. The church is its history teller. The city is said to have been well known for its tannery industry in the early years. One of the architectural heritage in the city must be the tall purple-brown building at the corner with steeply pitched roof, which is, to me, no wonder if it fell down at any moment. Our members were very busy buying candies at the confectionery downstairs of the building.

6. George Sand’s House in Nohant

We made an hour trip today to George Sand’s House, seven kilometers away from the hotel.

Getting off the bus to proceed a matter of a hundred meters along the lane, was a very old, timeworn looking church on the left side and a time-honored dignified gate to the Sand’s House on the right side, facing each other, as if they tacitly insisted that this territory was not yours but mine. I was so tickled by such a scene.

There were a fairly good numbers of visitors. A guide led us out to the first and second floors. I, learnt a bit through books beforehand, tried to be a Chopin of today, looking out of the window facing south at the pastoral view widely expanded beyond over the thick grove. Chopin, a brilliant player in improvised way, had fought in this room strenuously when it came to writing musical scores.

I recognized that Gorges Sand had sat down here in this chair, acting as host to entertain Balzac, Delacroix, Liszt, and Marie d’Agoult . There were a lot of articles and belongings of Sand, but I was not so much interested in them.

Through the side gate we passed out to the garden as was bathing in the summer afternoon sunlight. We wondered how far this garden was expanded because we could not see the boundary of the field. An old cottage nearby, seemingly built long before the House came into existence told me that it had hated the new edifice. I felt to hear such an untold story there.

I am positive that this place had done good to Chopin both physically and mentally because he could have lived here at leisure apart from hustling and bustling city life in Paris, but at the same time I could not help but to sympathize with him in his boredom when I deemed him a city dweller.

It was also a kind of mystery for me that George Sand had lived in this estate long enough with her father’s side grandmother. Was there anything to console her in this neighborhood? Did a puppet show at the home theater give her a comfort? Probably not.But I do not believe that it had caused any problem to her. Because the estate must have been a sacred hermitage for her where she had concentrated herself completely on writing of many novels and essays

7. Hotel du d’Argent again

Let me refer to the hotel once again. This two star hotel is said as ranked atop as no.1 or 2 in the city and very popular. The two story-high building like an inn does not pose any pressure, but rather friendly closeness. Two star should not be taken as such as inferior class. It is just right for average Japanese who want to relax and care free.

Except at meals, we had spent the whole day at the annex, each in his or her way. That was very enjoyable. At meal time, the hotel kindly had set up a long table for us in the dining room to face each other, eating, drinking and talking. Breakfast was served in smorgasbord plan, but lunch and dinner dishes in full service, with thickly cooked meat in the French way always accompanied by rose or red wine. Interesting enough was a menu written in Japanese as well as in French. The automatically translated Japanese from French gave us a big laugh because those two languages differ entirely. Such was offered as a topic for the day. The hotel is fully equipped with a Wi-Fi, so there was no problem for using a smartphone or tablet as far as you bring in a plug C adaptable to France with you.

One night there were a crowd of young people well-dressed around a vintage car, talking joyfully in the hotel parking lot. The scene apparently indicated the city was a route of Le Man rally between Paris and Nice. On the wall of a warehouse in front of the hotel was pasted a poster of Circus to be held on August 26 and 27. I had seen it nostalgically, remembering a circus in Japan was now a past story.

8. Prof. Henry’s lesson scene

 Now is the time for description of Prof, Yves Henry how he had conducted his class in the seminar room at the annex. The room is around 50-60 square meters wide with a big grand piano in front and about 30 chairs behind. Two fans installed high above the ceiling was rotating gently. Below one of them was a student playing the piano, while Prof. Henry listened very carefully and attentively to her, standing in white shirt and jeans. He had a pencil among the fingers with thumb and index finger hoisting up, waving both hands and arms very rhythmically to the tune of piano. At one time, he sat down in the chair as if he had meditated and at the other he had stood up with his eyes bulged open, waving his hand and fingers ups and downs or making circles as if he was playing in the air. He told something to her beside the piano, pointing at some part of the music score. Now he sat down at the piano and played in a masterly way. He was very busy and left when everything had finished.

 9. The significance of the travel

A travel of this kind was very good: no need to rush, no need to refill suitcases, and no tiresome bus transfers. While every student was taking lessons or doing practices, I confined myself at leisure in my room, relaxing, writing essays in Sand’s spirit, sketching on pictures taken around the city and the hotel. Sketching had made me conscious of many things otherwise ignored that also presented many topics for essays. If tired, all I had to do was lying on the bed. Mrs. A, elderly lady said.” This travel is the best I have ever made. I could relax and sleep very well. I could refresh myself in the best way.”

 10.   La Gargilesse, landscape Monet painted

Today we made an afternoon trip to La Gargilesse in the countryside, a hot spot for impressionists to paint landscapes where a George Sand villa stands.

The microbus took us there, 45 minutes away from La Shâtre. It had run through forests and bushes along a narrow country road, now well paved but not two hundred years back, full of dust. I imagined Chopin and Sand on a wagon to follow the same route of this uneven road, shaken and swayed. Daytime would have been much nicer than a moonless night when a pitch darkness only dominated and covered everything so that a little Aurore could not tell forests from woods at all. She desperately walked all night by a dreadful marsh around only to find herself back to the original point. I imagined La petite Fadette .

I see that such landscape was no wonder in those days. But still I questioned myself how little Aurore grown up in this environment in her childhood had become such a novelist, a critic, and a feminist dressed like a man. It is incredible. If raised in Paris, such she would be possible. But it is impossible here.

The lady, Sand became acquainted with Chopin and soon fell in love with him.  In her childhood, she dreamed a dream in the country, praying that someone must take her to that bright moon. Such a lady always rumored in Paris to be a man-hunter had eventually discovered such a traveler to the moon with her. It was Fredelic Chopin.

Well, we reached La Gargilesse.

At a glance it was like country landscapes seen anywhere in Japan, Minoo ravine near Osaka, for instance, except the shapes and colors of houses and the rural atmosphere they create. When driving through the countryside in Japan, we often came to see a black and white combination, white walls and black fences while here in France every house is colored brownish and sharp dark with steeply pitched roofs with chimney on top. The atmosphere is totally different. The flowers placed in the window panes or the entrance of each beige colored houses were very beautiful.

George Sand villa and a castle in a small village.

Inside the house were various relics of George Sand together with a chart of her family tree on the wall, old dessin sketches by her son, Maurice or articles of her daughter, Solange and so on. The house, not so particularly big, had been conserved by Maurice’s daughter, Aurore Dudevant until her death in 1961.

A small castle, whose lord is an acquaintance of Prof. Henry gave us unforgettable experiences from looking at genuine oil paintings by impressionists or post-impressionists at the gallery inside to spending a while breathing fresh air in the spacious garden outside of the castle.

Prof. Henry had told me beforehand that the region was so abundant in beautiful sceneries that many artists including Monet, of course, came to paint them from every part of the country. At the gallery I bought a collection book of such artists for 25 euros, which is my only souvenir for the whole trip. I could see some familiar paintings in pages of the book.

We had seen a lot of things here, but strangely enough, something was missing. That was the river, drawn in paintings but not present before our eyes. So I asked the bus driver to do us a favor of making a detour to rivers close-by. Then, it was. But that was not big to see but only a small one. We should go further to see the big ones.

11. Wrap-up concert in Prof. Henry’s house.

On our way back from La Gargilesse we dropped in Prof. Henry’s great house, about 2 kilometers away from La Shâtre to do a wrap-up concert by all of us at the hall, that was the turned barn. The atmosphere of this hall was superb in that it was just like the nineteenth century society Chopin and Sand had ever lived. After the concert we gathered around a table with wine and crackers on it to exchange conversation with Professor and his wife, Mijo. The scene looked like Dejeuner sur Herbe , oil painting by Monet.

12. Good-bye to La Shâtre.  See you again next year.

The last morning had come to say adieu to La Shâtre. It was a bit cool. We all got aboard the bus while prof. waved his hand to us. Bye bye to La Shâtre. The microbus had passed through villages crowded with people on Sunday markets and arrived at Chateauroux. The church bells in front of the station sounded solemnly and echoed long in my mind.

 13. Half day sightseeing in Paris

 The train came into Austerliz station in Paris. The station was dim-lighted and a bit dirty, completely different from Shinkansen or bullet train station in Tokyo, clean and shining. To me darker tone is more favorable than shining because the former brought me a kind of nostalgia. What feeling did Chopin have when he returned from his exhausted trip by wagon and saw the grandeur of buildings in the city? Was the city more appealing to him or country?  I had an ambivalent emotion that I love both. Possibly he did, too.

 Leaving all our baggage in the hotel, we went out on a half day trip in Paris. The first destination was the graveyard of Chopin. A subway took us there in half an hour.

 The spacious graveyard was dotted with many tombstones each put in a large telephone-box typed compartment. We found that of Chopin’s easily. The red-ribbon tombstone carved with his birth and passing dates was offered fresh flowers. There were quite a few visitors there. At less than ten meters away was the tombstone of a Japanese pianist initialed K.S.. That was rather impressive.

Next we visited was Eglise de la Madeleine where Chopin is deified. The temple was too big to put in my camera. The inside was very quiet and tranquil with a darker painting in the dome but no stained glasses seen anywhere. High above the main entrance was a solemn pipe organ placed.

Then we proceeded to the Place Vendome to see the apartment Chopin had breathed his last. The room was said to be on the second floor of a jeweler’s shop called SHOME, but unfortunately the shop was closed due to summer holiday.

 I once came to Paris long time ago on business but not after that. I was so impressively struck again by those magnificent edifices, stone-based that I came again to admire the European culture and civilization.

We dropped in one of the cafes, not of Starbuck but of a decent kind. I heard that there were over 6,000 cafes of this sort. That is the way we should spend our lives. We strolled around the Louvre and the Seine but I had had no more energy to explore the night city with the other members. All I could do was to drink white beer brewed in France with carpaccio meat to go with it at one of the restaurants turned from a warehouse.

                                                           The end