Light in the Dark. Impressions and Illuminations in la Ville Lumière

Dear Cal,

Man this jazz kick is great. Some album that I’m listening to with Miles Davis and Coltrane. I know they played together a few times before ol’ John blew up and went out on his own, before A Love Supreme and Blue Train.

The French, the Parisians in particular have been known to take to our American music and in particular our jazz music. I admit that I never made it to a jazz club during both visits to Paris; but maybe I’ll go, in this conversation right here right now, with you. I’ve got the music playing already anyway.

I remember the sound of the parishioners all huddled outside the church and holding candles, the sound of their voices, humming and rejoicing, echoing on down the alleyways and up to our hotel window. That was Holy Saturday.

On the night before, we went to St. Julien’s church in the Latin Quarter, next to Notre Dame and listened to a cellist play Bach’s cello suites, beginning with the No. 1, the first movement…the one that everyone knows and if I were to play it right now, you’d most definitely know which cello suite I’m talking about.

What did I feel when I heard it? Joy. Pure, unbound joy and gratitude for having come back to Paris and having brought someone with me that I  love, and gratitude for the fact that I was sharing with her something that meant so much to me. A great city. And some of the most beautiful music ever made.

Bach is no doubt the true master. It’s all been said before, how his music reminds us of what it is to be one with the universe…while Mozart reminds us what it is to be human, and Beethoven reminds us what it is to be Beethoven. I find myself listening to Mozart most often even though my favorite composer remains Beethoven.

Anyway the composers came later, as I made it farther east into Budapest, Prague and Vienna; but when I first got to Paris I continued along the same trek that I originally began in Madrid and into Barcelona, where I gained a deeper understanding of great art through discovering the works of some of the greatest artists in all the world.  Hell man, it’s like it was just yesterday, or even earlier today. This morning I read that time is merely a matter of perspective since everything is happening all at once, that we only perceive everything to be broken up into past, present and future.  As you know, I originally heard these ideas when I first got back to the states and reunited with my girl and started contemplating physics, Einstein, Mozart and Beethoven and the holy Tao.  I guess these life and death matters have a way of sneaking up once and again throughout life. C’est la vie.  Look like I’ve come full circle.

Alright now, what can I say about Paris? An old friend tells me he’s been itching to go, after seeing one of my pictures that I posted, a photo of me at the Louvre standing next to the statue of Athena.

For one thing, I tell him, it’s a sure bet if you’re looking for a crash course in impressionist art since the Musee D’ Orsay on the left bank has a whole section devoted to the great artists who spearheaded the movement. In any conversation it seems you can’t hear one name without eventually hearing the whole slew of others. If someone’s talking about Monet, a mention of Cézanne will soon follow. But then of course there’s ol’ Renoir and his mastery of light and shade, Degas with his paintings and innumerable sculptures of young dancers, Gaugin and his whole Tahitian kick and then Vincent Van Gogh, who was friends with Gaugin for a time but they lost touch cause Vincent had some kind of temper.

Manet is good too, especially the way he paints naked women. Olympia was his greatest.  People confuse him with Monet ’cause their names sound similar, and yet in style they’re so far apart. I think of Monet, and I think of the old man in Giverny going increasingly blind with age. What a terrible fate for such a man, whose eyes are everything. Like the aging Beethoven whose hearing grew more faint every year.

How can such a fate befall such a man?! And at so early an age?! I think Beethoven was in his thirties when he realized he was losing his hearing and thereafter wrote his last will and testament. This coming-to-terms preceded what writers  have called his heroic age, when he composed the ‘Eroica’ and the Fifth Symphony.

The sense of despair these two felt is hard for most of us to imagine. And yet to some degree, maybe some of us can relate. Our back is up against the wall, we’re outgunned and outnumbered, facing impossible odds; and yet in that darkness we somehow find opportunity, if not the sudden motivation to discover and tap into our greatest, most innate and profound powers and abilities.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that paradox lately. Finding the light in the dark. The flame within the shadow. Whether one can really know good unless they know the bad, whether life itself is dictated by this very duality, this fact of relativity; and whether it is only after death that we greet the absolute, face to face, in a way that we could never manage to do in this physical world where we continually seek to know ourselves and understand one another.

I wonder if Monet, like Beethoven, felt the slow rhythmic march to whatever ominous force exists after life. Was it the sheer urgency of his own mortality that drove him to create his greatest work? Perhaps when confronted with the stark reveal, the true nature of life on earth, the urgency of knowing that he’d soon be with the absolute—whether absolutely dead, or absolutely alive in some higher form of existence where everything is known as the soul survives—that he was forced to look deep within and paint visions depicting all he’d come to learn, visions left behind  for those who’d follow him, visions representing his experience on earth and everything he chose to stand for, if he stood for anything at all.  If he did make such a choice, I’m struck by the fact that he chose to do so through a series of paintings honoring the same extraordinary simple theme. The water lilies.

Anyway, my heart is in Paris the same way it’s in Barcelona and Madrid and Budapest, and everywhere else I’ve been so far. As is the case with so many of the places, Paris gave me a better understanding of Who I Am and where I wanted to go.  We’ve never been to art school or taken any art classes but I tell ya, Paris is a place great start. The whole city is a school.

Alright I’m rambling.  What about you?  What’s new these days? I hear you’re working on a book, and that I’m the main character.  My, how the tables have turned.


me and the goddess of wisdom


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