Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In the Presence of Divinity - Vivaldi & Vitali at St. Chapelle

There's something about feeding your soul that I've learnt on walkabout.  I have a post coming up shortly about the reasons why I think it has been so great for me to wander about by myself in a foreign country.  I've had a lot of guides along the way, usually accessed through books, my childhood love.  One of them has been Martha Beck, whom I will reference a lot.  She has revolutionized the way I view how and where I am going...and I did *not* find her on Oprah (she has a regular column in both Oprah's print and online magazine as well she should, Oprah knows how to pick the best from every niche!).  Rather, I discovered her through Finding Your Own North Star, but more on that some other time.

One thing that harassed corporatistas forget to do is "nourish their souls", a daily habit that Martha encourages everyone to work on.  Ohhh, I can see a lot of you already screwing up your noses at that phrase.  It's okay, a short while ago I would have impatiently gone onto some very important internet shoe shopping instead of thinking about this.  Ridding the phrase of its amorphous new agey connotations, Martha lists one of its components as being making sure to give ourselves sensory "treats." What such treats are differs for everyone...what brings you sensory joy and pleasure? One of Martha's exercises is to make a list of what pleases your senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing.  Then to make sure you do at least 3 of them a day.  Ahem...make sure they're for your ultimate good otherwise they do not a beautiful, healthy dish of well-prepared food YES, a bucket of KFC NO; one small glass of Reisling YES, a whole bottle down the hatch NO.

This practice seems easy to poo-poo, but to my genuine surprise, I found that making sure to do these at least once a day puts me in touch with my higher self, the good part of me, the happy part of me.  I don't mean that to sound ephemeral, I only mean it in the sense of the "good" part of me as opposed to my...lower self.  Does that make sense?  I'm terrible...just go buy her book The Joy Diet:  10 Practices for a Happier Life.  

As you may already know, visually seeing, in person, beautiful ancient, buildings and bridges and churches and museums brings me immense joy.  It fills me with a sense of heightened beauty and peace...makes *me* feel beautiful and connected to the universe.  In simple terms, it makes me happy.  

Another "sensory treat" is listening to live, classical music, particularly chamber music.   If you are ever in Paris, you MUST go to a concert at Sainte Chapelle.  Buy the tickets ahead of time at and pay a little extra for the seats located in the front 6 rows; because the concert is in an actual chapel (what used to be the exclusive chapel for the royal Capetian dynasty) there are no graduated rows so if you're sitting in the back you can't see anything and what's the fun in that, right?  

First, the venue.  St. Chapelle is one of two surviving buildings of what was the immense palatial compound of the Capetian family from approximately the 1200s, the first royalty located in what is now the city of Paris (Il de Cite).  St. Chapelle is a chapel.  It is not known for enormity, it was not designed to be a cathedral for the masses, merely a place of worship for the royal family and a place to store religious relics obsessively hunted for by Louis IX.  St. Chapelle's claim to fame is that it has the most stained-glass windows in one place than any other church in the world and is considered the paragon of the "Rayonnant" Gothic architectural style.  And you already know my love of Gothic architecture.  

I know what some of you are thinking, big whoop, the most number of 13th century stained glass windows ever...that's what I thought at first and when I read about it, it was far down my priority list of places to hit in Paris.  Until I walked in at dusk, through the nave, with the setting sun sending streams of light through floor-to-soaring-ceiling walls of 1000s of stained-glass images of ancient biblical mythology, warfare and royal life.  If you don't audibly gasp and feel your scalp tingle as you do this, you have a heart of coal, there is just no other explanation!!

The amazing gothic arches as you walk in...can you imagine being a Capetian in the 13th-century and this is what you see as you pass?

Crowning the 16 huge stained glass windows that constitute the entire chapel - widely considered the apogee of all Gothic stained-glass chapels -  are the soaring arched ceilings painted in deep, royal colors of blue and painted with stars and fleur de lis.  

During daylight, the entire chapel is an immense jewelbox
With the light streaming in highlighting all the renditions of biblical mythology and royal scalp was tingling the entire time.  
Every single one of these itty-bitty glass-etched images tells a story.  There are tours where everyone literally brings binoculars and the docent goes through several panes explaining the significance of each one.  

On top of this visual glory, imagine now sitting down in this royal chapel, right up front at the alter (where royal marriages took place for centuries, determining the fate of Europe), and listening to divine music in the form of a world-renowned chamber music ensemble.  I can't even CONTAIN how excited I was each time.

I've been twice now to this same performance.  It is lead by David Baracci, a violin virtuoso, who plays the primary violin parts of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons at a speed at which I have never heard it played before in my life, ever.  He is a master of the violin.  He OWNS the violin. He strode on stage in black leather pants and smacked it around like it's a little plaything over which he completely wields dominion.  He not only played the main violin part but lead the rest of the ensemble, walking around as he played, cuing them in.  They stared at him with terrified eyes and beatific smiles pasted on their faces the entire time, it was quite a scene.

Here is a pic I snuck of him right before the performance.

Vitali Chaconne
The iTouch is a crappy camera. Yes.  
On top of musically being a re-born Paganini, David Braccini is charismatic, playing not just the violin but also the the end of his encore where he replays the furious presto movement of Summer from the Four Seasons, he blows on his bow, as if it had been on fire...yeah, he knows he is good.  He is also handsome to boot.

Here is a clip from the Four Seasons (the iTouch is also a crappy videotakerthingy) (Braccini's rendition of Vitali's Chaconne is a whole other matter...I saw angels flying from his bow, it is hands down on my list of the most moving pieces on this planet): had turned to dusk and the cool light made the entire chapel turns hues of blue.  I sat there bathing in the sublime light and music and I honestly felt myself in the presence of an ageless divinity, however you define that.  And my soul felt nourished.

Update:  I found a better recording of Braccini:

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