Feb. 24th, 2005

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It’s hard to believe, but this may be my last posting from Paris. Thursday I’m going to make one last stop at the Opéra library, to check on one manuscript source and some orchestral parts that I haven’t really poked through yet. Once that’s done, I may head up to Montmartre for a few hours to check out Sacre Coeur; or I may buy my train tickets for Friday morning and try to buy some cheap English books for the flight home. Then Friday and Saturday I’ll be down in Lyon, checking into their scores, and Sunday it’s back to Paris, to pack, and possibly gallivant around for one last day (this may be my day for Montmartre, if I don’t make it tomorrow) and Monday it’s out to Charles de Gaulle and then back in Canada by about 10:00 p.m.

Or hopefully earlier.

The last few days here have been somewhat frustrating. First, it’s been cold – oh, not cold as we would acknowledge cold at home; it’s only been about -3 or so. But still, when you didn’t pack for that, it’s cold. I had to buy a hat on Monday because the wind was really getting to me.

Monday I went to the Archives nationales. This was frustrating because when I arrived, I was informed that all the spots in the reading room were full. In fact, reported the woman staffing the Acceuil, people arrived at 8:15 to get spots when the archives opened at 9:00. But what, I wondered, is the difference between waiting 45 minutes first thing in the morning, and waiting 45 minutes starting at 9:30, after you’ve had a lovely café crème? The difference is another 45 minutes, apparently. I didn’t get to go up to the Archives until nearly noon. When I did, I had to stuff my knapsack into a locker which was about 5 inches wide (not an easy proposition). Once in the Archives, I double-checked the numbers I’d written down in Canada.

Either we have a different catalogue in Canada, or else I wasn’t paying attention that day, because what I thought was there (and what I had numbers for) bore no resemblance to what was actually in their catalogue. Nevertheless, I ordered up what I thought might be useful, and then settled down to try to read early eighteenth-century French handwriting – never an easy proposition – in a room full of about 100 people also doing the same thing.

And then they started jackhammering outside. I am so lucky. Well, I tried my best, but between deciphering the handwriting, the mass of people, and the jackhammering, I just couldn’t find anything directly pertinent to my research. So after about five hours I gave up and came home. Despairing over being surrounded by French, I decided to go see “Constantine” at the movie theatre in English. I bought the paper, checked the theatre, trekked down – only to find this theatre was showing the French version, and the English version was showing down at the Les Halles shopping centre, another 30 minutes from where I was.

Trust the French to have one shopping mall in the city (which is so full of stores itself it’s like a giant mall) and to put it underground. I fought my way through the mall, found the cinema and then had to wait for an hour for the movie to start. Unlike Canadian theatres, in Paris they don’t let you in until just before the show starts. Then, just like in Canada, there’s about 25 minutes of trailers, during which people are still being seated. Then the movie starts, and COMPLETELY unlike Canada, everyone shushes everyone else and they watch the movie in silence. More or less.

Thank goodness I was there by myself; I would undoubtedly have been very offensive if I’d been there with anyone to talk too.

Tuesday I hopped back onto the Metro and went out to the Mitterand library. This is the big new building that opened back in the late 90s; all the books are up in 4 towers which had to be specially modified to prevent the books from roasting in the sun. Meanwhile all the researchers work below ground and should modify themselves to avoid freezing to death.

There was, of course, a line to get into the library, because they have to pretend to look inside your bag. Then you must check your bag, pulling out all your earthly goods and moving them into a transparent bag that the library supplies. Then, borrower’s card in hand (because you will be inserting it into turnstiles at every possible opportunity) you pass through what could be an airlock (a set of double-doors with space in between) but is really all part of the Mitterand’s quest to complete obliterate any sense of enjoyment you might have had about coming to the library. I took two giant escalators down to the researchers-only level, where I found someone to help me with the library – and here I had the shock of the day.

I have suddenly become incapable of understanding spoken French. I knew I wasn’t that great when I got here, but now, unless the speaker goes very slowly, or uses small words, I simply cannot tell what they’re saying – and as for replying! Forget it. But I finally understood what I had to do; I reserved a place in one of the reading rooms, found it, found out how to order up my stuff, ordered it, started looking at it; realized I’d left something at home that I needed; debated making a new copy from a microfiche that the Mitterand had; froze while I looked at the fiche; decided not to make the copy; ate some lunch, took the ricketiest modern elevator I’ve ever seen up to the Mitterand rare book room, looked at my books, finished, and then reversed my soul-killing journey up the two escalators and escaped back to my apartment.

On the positive side, today I went to Versailles, found an interestingly-marked-up pair of scores, toured the Chateau (although much of it was closed for renovation) and got asked out for coffee by one of the guards.

It does make you wonder what will happen tomorrow.

A bientôt!

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