Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Versailles, Port Dauphin and Many other things not reported

Versailles was startling for it's grandeur, never imagined anything so wierd...Yet, in the wonderful changing light of a Spring sky, sometimes dark, sometimes dazzling, the palace stood out like a filigree dream in wastrel's gold. Inside, the stories were in themselves tragic, the king's room looking out to the gates, so that he could see who was coming in and leaving. Marie Antoinette's room with it's gold and blue settings and the one large bed, and the footstools for attendants and the small door from which she ran out  to the king's bedchamber,when the crowds burst in.  The king's room with it's sombre stuffy colours, haunted by the memories of his love for a former wife, the picture of his mother in law and father in law by  on either side of his bedside, portrait of his first wife on the wall, and the call to prayers insistent, in the glamorous chapel on the groundfloor, where everyone collectively spent three hours every morning, praying with him. I can imagine Marie Antoinette bored to bits, never left on her own, and shrugging away any concern with the real. And then ofcourse downstairs, the rooms of Madame Pompadour who held court and patronised the writers and the artists officially for  the court, displaced in time by another. Outside the large estate, described as Marie Antoinette's estate, and the cold frozen waters of a small lake visible from the glass room, where the chandeliers and the mirrors compete with one another.
In the above room, the light was so dazzling, that a woman had a stroke, the emergency squad arrived, she was wrapped in a gold sheet, and wore a glass mask, and struggled to speak with the medical team, who held her up, four men with anxious eyes. We watched, and then moved on to take pictures of marble sculptures ofApollo and Demeter and others who too  looked on with the eyes of time, innocent of death. The photo below was taken  by me before I saw the team of men in dark blue just behind with a red medical box attending to the sick tourist.
These children are smiling at their father and are part of a large family visiting Paris on vacation and  I am  the academic tourist on my own, photographing generalities in the blaze of an eccentric extravagant background. How were we to know that as we left this niche we would meet such a grave situation of life and death?

Port Dauphin, where I went to lecture on "Fiction, Biography and Memory" to students at the University, was interesting in stark contrast. Corridors into corridors, embellished only by students' posters and teachers' notices. The students in the class that Tirthankar took, in which I was a guest,  ranged from ages 20 to 50 years, the subject of thier study:"Indian writers writing in English" and the view from the window was all that was modern and utilitarian. It is these contrasts that interest me. On the way to the lecture, I dropped in to see my  friend Joelle, who gives me fragrant tea, and we chat about Ramanasramam and mutual friends who have helped us with the questions of work and survival, the landscapes of Tiruvannamalai where we have found a common sense of homecoming, which is so central to the concept of well being. She  is a dancer, who has finished teaching for a month in Milan, and will now be leaving for China to teach ballet to students there. A lot of the questions that Sociologists raise about globalisation is really centred around multiculturalism, art as profession and as therapy, and the ways in which age and professionalism enter into new vocabularies of learning to live in the new age.

Just before I leave Paris, I meet another friend Gilles, this time with his wife and child, and a colleague from London, Alex outside the Notre Dame. We meet outside the statue of Charlemagne, with both Alex and Gilles saying independently, "Is there a statue of Constantinople?" since  I had made a mistake when fixing the place to meet at.  I had got confused, because there was to be an exhibit in the Notre Dame of the "Crown of Thorns", which according to the veteran tourist guide, John Kite, had been sold to the French by Constantinople.   Gilles teases me, saying "Well, you probably know the cafes in Paris equally well by now." So Alex and I drink tea in thick white cups, and Gilles  and his wife  have hot cocoa, while their son eats (drawing all the while!) the famous crepe Suzette, folded neatly as only the French can do. The cafe is called Esmeralda in tribute to Victor Hugo.

John Kite had also shown us graffiti on the walls of Notre Dame, a beautiful cross carved into a pillar by a 14th century workman, so simple in it's design, it leaves you breathless. The Notre Dame he says was built by the contributions of the people, and not by the will of the King alone, so it remains a people's place.

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