Tuesday, July 23, 2013

paris -- le tour hits town

Even the gods were watching le Tour.

You cross the Seine (via the bridge that puts you in the gigantic courtyard of the Louvre) for lunch and to scope out your spot to view the final stage of le Tour.  It is hot and sunny;  photo perfect. You claim real estate at the corner of Rue de Rivoli and Ave. du General Lemmonier around 5:30, about two and a half hours before the first bike will emerge from the tunnel.  They will pass this spot ten times -- once every eight minutes or so -- as they do laps from here to the Arc De Triomphe and back, with the finish on the Champs-Elysees.  All spots on the rail are taken, and have been for a couple of hours, so you camp out next to the young Brit couple on the rail.  He is jacked because Chris Froome, a Brit is going to win le Tour; she's along for the ride.  The Norwegians have taken over the whole corner across from you, their flags displayed prominently.  Pamella swoons from the heat -- not from the sun, but rather her gendarme du jour.

The race finally comes to town.  Sometimes you recognize a jersey, sometimes it's a blur of colors and machinery. The bikes go by in a thick rush of speed, muscle, power and testosterone that slaps you senseless.  These are the 200 best cyclists on the planet, and their combined aura coming around that turn astonishes intensely.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

paris -- day one

You and Pamella walk a mile or so to Chez Francis and have lunch as the Eiffel Tower stands tall across the Seine.  A walk up Ave. Montaigne to the Champs-Élysées to scope the finish of Le Tour.  

Barricades are already in place, as is seating for the masses and the VIPs.  The temp today is an unusually hot 86 degrees; it's supposed to be over 90 on Sunday for the final stage. 

You visit Monet's museum ( http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/documents/anglais_2013-03-04.pdf ) and are entranced/enchanted by the Water Lillies series, installed in a space (two oval rooms, apprx. 40' x 80' each) he created specifically for them.  The eight canvasses, all around 6 feet tall, range in length from 20 to 50 feet and follow the course of a day: sunrise to sunset..  Skylights allow natural light (filtered through a white scrim) to flood the room: if clouds pass across the sun, the light in the room changes, the colors in the paintings lighten and darken accordingly.  You were lucky enough to see them on a partly cloudy day and saw constant, dramatically cool changes in color and texture every few seconds/minutes.

Back at the hotel by 5.  Maker's (you) and wine (Pamella).  Awaiting Clay's call to meet up for dinner.  No call, but you do anyway: Maceo's R & B -- roomy, relaxed, sitting by open windows, eating duck, crab, gazpacho, salad, drinking red wine, talking into the night, trying to get an idea of what to do tomorrow (the Smith bookstore?  Versailles?  Hang in Paris?).   Clay leaves for the states at 5 a.m.  You walk past the Louvre on the way back to the St. Vincent.  Bonsoir et au revoir.

jarrett peacock dejohnette vid


You are not in Kansas (Provence) any more. 

You get strict instructions from Clay about how to get from CDG to your hotel – and you’re told that under no circumstances can you puss out and take a taxi.  Two trains and several turnstile adventures (you’re schlepping two suitcases), and an hour later, you emerge above-ground a few blocks from your hotel (the St. Vincent:  http://www.hotelsaintvincentparis.com/ )  and Pamella, who got to town a day ahead of you­.  You walk to the St. Vincent: third floor, room 326, w/ view of a “courtyard.”

Pamella brought a couple of duty-free bottles of Maker’s, so you break one of them open and settle in.   The lime scarf you bought in Venice looks great on her.

Evening: you walk the neighborhood a bit and she shows you the suit you have to buy.  Dinner at an excellent Indian place three blocks away.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

concession speech

In spite of your best efforts, you have given up hope of this journal ever catching up to real time, i.e., there is still so much from Provence you haven't posted, not to mention Venice (which you're leaving today), not to mention Paris-to-come, where you will meet Pamella this afternoon.  So you'll just post current events as they occur and play catch-up when you can.  You admit defeat.  Travelling is hard work.


Your shoes blow up in Venice.  You know where the Puma store is.  You go; you buy; you wear: navy stripes on gray.  You replace the white shoelaces with navy.  You are (per Clay's instructions) as ready as you'll ever be to walk into Paris today.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

meanwhile, over in nice

the dish, again


jarrett/peacock/dejohnette trio -- venice

At the Teatro la Fenice:  
The show was a form of perfection, some of which was exquisitely moving -- especially in the ballad context where, unlike in a club or a rock show, there was NO crowd noise (think church, or quieter, if possible) and you hear all the nuance and delicacy.  In the normal "standards" setting this perfection got . . . boring . . . or at least un-riveting.  It did not move your soul, but I that's your problem.  Little "free jazz" improv; maybe a couple segments by Jarrett, who had his back to the audience the whole time.  Two sets, 45 minutes each. The sets mimic each other: a mildly swinging tune gives way to upbeat gives way to ballad.  The occasional drum or bass solo.  Rinse and repeat. Jarrett changes from red shirt to blue shirt for second set. Sitting in a box with Phillip and Rebecca.  They have the back two of the four seats in the box.  You stand.  No alcohol, no drinks, no nothing but the wonderful architectural ambience.  The couple in front of you doesn't return for the second set; neither do P&R -- they had a dinner rez.  You have your own personal box for the set. As "experience" (cool theater, Venice, lucking into the show, the shock of "the new" [or old]), it is exceptional.  The theater: beautiful, seating maybe 1,000.  Sound: perfect. Not a bad seat in the 5-tiered house, except . . . the seats closest to the stage?!

Picture a horseshoe with the stage at the open end.  As the ends of each side of the shoe bend toward each other, the sight lines of the box seats begin to turn away from the stage.  It looks pretty conceptually, but is ergonomically vexing if you're toward the "end" of either side of the shoe.  "Craning your neck" accurately describes the sensation, and if you were in the back two seats in the boxes closest the stage, you could only see maybe a third of the action.  The band being toward the middle to rear of the stage didn't help.

(http://www.music-opera.com/site_english/plans.asp?pays=Italy&ville=Venezia#   Fuggedaboutit if you're in the back two seats of the room in boxes 1 - 7 and 29 - 35.  Pay attention to the angle of the outline, not the diagonal lines of the boxes; that is the actual sightline.)

They requested no pictures "so the musicians could play their best music."  Ahem.  You break the law:

p.s.  Improv moment.  They all come out at the start of the show and take their positions.  Applause.  Jarrett walks off stage; comes back with dark (sun?) glasses on.  Applause.  He deadpans to the audience (the only time he spoke directly to you) without a mic (and you could hear him clearly on the back row: acoustics!):  "This is the first time my glasses ever got applause."

jarrett trio in perugia


The name of Keith Jarrett’s music publishing company is Cavelight. It is a reference, one guesses, to Plato’s cave. In the allegory from The Republic, the tale of prisoners chained to a wall and shackled to a distorted view of reality contrasts with the philosopher, who sees beyond the shadows created by a fire, free to see things as they really are. The tale argues for the primacy of ideas over the material world—in fact, it is the best-known illustration of Plato’s idealism, a point captured so well in Raphael’s School of Athens fresco in the Vatican Museums. Aristotle, in company with Plato, points his finger forward, horizontally. Plato points upward.
On 7 July 2013, in his first set at Umbria Jazz since his expulsion in 2007, Keith Jarrett, along with bandmates Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, played in the dark, illuminated—one could say distorted—by a solitary light on Peacock’s music stand. It was the only light in this particular cave, and the prisoners were not the musicians but the audience of roughly three thousand. The artist, one must assume, played the role of the philosopher, disciplining the audience into submission to the higher law of pure music without recourse to spectacle.
The symbolism is perhaps too tidy. The circumstances for Jarrett’s performance were inseparable from the performance itself, to an unfortunate degree. Audience photography had led to Jarrett’s discomfiture in 2007 and his angry response and departure before the performance that year was still a fresh memory in 2013. The prodigal had returned for the festival’s fortieth anniversary and his trio’s thirtieth. The organizers no doubt hoped for a triumphant evening of music unmarred by past wounds or by flash photography. Unfortunately, the flashes came. The problem is that we no longer are able to distinguish between flashes borne of ignorance and those of provocation, and the artist allows for no such distinction. Both garner an extreme response.
At this summer evening’s outset, Jarrett slumped onto the stage, hands in pockets, the tension already evident. Then a flash or two went off before Jarrett reached his instrument, prompting a curt “See ya later,” from the pianist and an immediate exit from the stage before a note had been played. Jarrett soon returned but demanded the stage lights cut. When a few gel lights remained for illumination, he insisted that these be dialed to black as well. So Umbria Jazz became what one suspects is Jarrett’s ideal performance space—a private realm where the artist may only be heard and not seen, and the trio launched into “On Green Dolphin Street” with its customary swing topped by Jarrett’s seignorial touch. The large video monitors on either side of the stage were rendered useless in the absence of stage lights to aid cameras, making it even less possible for those in the back of Arena Santa Giuliana to see anything.
The problem is that this outdoor concert was witnessed by (and, of course, funded by) actual people, deluded prisoners though they may have been. At one moment as the trio faded into the darkness, Jarrett could be heard commenting to his mates on the amount of noise coming from the audience. When the trio arose at the end of 50 minutes of music and departed the stage without acknowledging the applause of the prisoners, it was very much in doubt whether they would return. One assumes that furious backstage pleadings and negotiations with the leader prolonged the intermission beyond 30 minutes. Upon their return, the trio allowed for limited gel lighting.
By the time of the encore, after waves of gospel, blues, and ecstatic balladry, the audience and the artist, the prisoners and the philosopher, reached an impasse. As the trio returned for a final number, a couple of flashes went off, and Jarrett promptly turned around and left the stage to the sound of whistling (the equivalent of American boos). The performance, to the extent that Jarrett would acknowledge it as such, had ended.
At this point it is hard to imagine Jarrett agreeing to return to Umbria Jazz, or perhaps to any outdoor venue, again. The frustration is that once the man actually gets down to making music, the sounds are sublime. Jarrett seemingly wins his argument because he actually delivers on the notion that we are in the presence of greatness, as his lengthy blues improvisations and renderings of standards such as “Bye Bye Blackbird” made so clear on Perugia’s mountainside. And indeed, music is an arrangement of sound and ideally, should not have to be abetted by concessions to the visual. The artist would provide all the enlightenment needed, rendering the house lights irrelevant. But the framing of the argument in this case reveals its failure. The palpable tension surrounding the Umbria performance—the conviction among many that indeed he would not play at all, or that he would not return for the second half, or for an encore—made for an uncomfortable experience that even the choicest of notes could not entirely dispel. While the decision to play in the dark could be read as a philosophical statement about the ideal way to hear great music, it rather seemed a petulant response to a couple of people who either hadn’t grasped the significance of Jarrett’s issues with photography or who were trying to bait the pianist. If so, he took the bait and doubled down. He would provide the light in the cave for the misguided prisoners.
To be fairer to Jarrett, it was not clear to this audience member that the ban on photography had been sufficiently stated. The official program did not mention it. I would have expected a statement in unmistakable block letters in Italian and English. The ticket scanners did not warn patrons as they entered the arena. The tickets themselves said, and only in the fine print, that it was not “normally” permissible to take photographs or make recordings. Only after Jarrett had threatened to walk did the organizers make an announcement  in English, the language of a sizable percentage of the audience, and it was not as emphatic as one might expect. This was risky behavior on Umbria Jazz’s part. Perhaps clearer and more insistent rhetoric beforehand would have saved much trouble later. But only perhaps, especially if the flashes were meant to provoke.
In the end, Jarrett has raised an intriguing issue regarding the artist’s relationship to his audience that is perhaps beyond happy resolution as long as he believes that it is the audience’s privilege to hear him perform rather than his to play for the audience. As much as the prisoners in the cave wanted to follow the philosopher’s enlightenment, we still had the sense that no matter what we did, the artist would walk away, leaving us in our supposed chains of ignorance.
Notice: Photography is Not Permitted in this Post

From the blog: Blue Notes in Black and White, by Benjamin Cawthra, 7 .7 .13

Friday, July 12, 2013

petanque -- IV

You hit the Fontvieille market in the morning.  You come across a few vendors selling old/antique metal boules, but only in sets of two, not three, so you're really not interested, in spite of some interesting patterns.  Then you come across some really antique boules, made in the early 1900s -- call them 100 years old.  They have an outer skin of scales and an inner core of wood.  There was a boule thrown so many times it was misshapen with use.  You decide to "think" about a purchase, but let it go.  During the course of the day you pass the market a few more times, think about buying the boules and don't.  Finally, out by the pool, at 5 p.m., you start kicking yourself for not scoring les boules: they are cool, you'll never see a pair like that again, the market is probably over, etc., . . ..

Pissed at yourself, you say fuck it, get in the car and drive to Fontvieille encore.  It's now 6 p.m. and you know the guy has packed up and left.  You are half right: he is packed, but he hasn't left.  You buy the pair for 50 euros, in mint condition, still perfectly round.

Snake skin found by Phillipe.


The posters à Avignon sont partout, and you mean everywhere.

You do the usual 30 minute drive-around before you find a parking space just outside the ancient Roman wall that used to define the city limits.  Once you step inside the walls you are bombarded with posters, attached with brown string any and everywhere: on walls, railings, bikes, stones, doors . . . if there is a horizontal space, it will have a poster somehow attached to it.  You wander the streets with Phillipe, Reba and Skylar and soon come across Les Halles, the fresh market in the middle of the old town.  If it’s food, and you need it, they have it.  

From there you go to the Eglise St. Pierre, are greeted by some requisite gargoyle-y faces, and once inside the dimly lit  space with its arching ceilings, sinister confession booths, and multiple, artful, stylized renderings of Jesus’ torture/crucifixation, you can’t help but think about ancient politics, intrigue, backstabbing, indulgences, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgences )  subterfuge, old men and little boys, etc., i.e., anything but the spiritual underpinings of Christianity.  

Instead of lifting you to Heaven, the Vortex spirals you down to the inner circle of Hell, but you escape and head to the grander Palais des Papes, where, in the 1300’s, seven Popes ruled the church in what is now called the Avignon Papacy.  But instead of intrigue and little boys, you’re confronted with lines of tourists, a million posters, mimes, performance art, picture snapping, a thousand other things having nothing to do with religion.  Quel soulagement (what a relief)!

You continue on to a bridge arching over the Rhone, snap pics, then return to Les Halles, where you pic up provisions for your last night in Provence.

reebs . . . poolside


Rogue yoga, baby!