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“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.

France

Impression, maison

Musée Claude Debussy Part 1

11 March 2011 

As promised, after an unanticipated, desultory detour on the métro in my last entry, this time we’ll discuss the birthplace of one of France’s greatest composers, Claude-Achille Debussy.  But, a friendly warning here:  as with my previous museum descriptions, perhaps 38.19660112501. . .% of this entry will have to do with what can actually be seen (ahem, you must visit the museum for that), but the rest will provide a convenient framework for, oh, let’s see,  art appreciation, music theory, history, and reflection — possibly entailing a consideration of practices and customs, or a contemplation of manners and mores, or an examination of attitudes and outlooks — and in general, a chance to offer candid observations about French culture and those who find themselves in la France.

When Colleen and I arrived in St-Germain-en-Laye, about 22 kilometers west of Paris, we climbed to the surface to get our bearings.  (The RER travels mostly above ground — in fact, there is a nice view of the Seine River from a bridge used by the A line  — but it moves underground in urban areas.)  The maps of St-Germain-en-Laye that I had wrung from the Internet were infinitely more detailed than those of Montfort-l’Amaury.  We strolled down rue de la Paroisse and then found a little marché on rue de la République, where we bought some water to replace that which we had been squirting out of our pores during our métro sprints the last hour-and-a-half.  We then followed signs to “l’Office municipal de Tourisme,” assuming that they could tell us where the Musée Claude Debussy was.  We walked past a pâtisserie, the pastries in the window holding out a promise of both physical and emotional assistance to assuage our recent bout of métro terror, but — business first — it seemed best to accomplish our strategic goals.

We found the tourist office where (to my surprise, as I had completely forgotten that I had previously read about this serendipitous arrangement) we were told that the Debussy Museum was directly upstairs in the same building!  Upon learning that the museum’s hours in fact corresponded with those stated on their web site (no Journées Debussy or other time-warping events), we saw that we were being afforded a moment to relax.

After a instant’s deliberation, I announced to the docent, “Merci, Madame.  Nous retournerons après avoir rendu visite à la pâtisserie!” — we will return after paying a visit to the pastry shop.  We left the museum and soon purchased a chocolate-covered meringue ball the size of a small planet, repairing to a semi-deserted square to study it.  This was an ideal time for us to decompress.

We sat on a bench and enjoyed the autumn sun and the soft breezes.  Eventually, we turned our attention to the curious meringue au chocolat.  Although it seemed to weigh less than a gram, it was genuinely large, and when we bit into it, we noticed a slightly disturbing seam in the middle, as if some kind of cell division were taking place.

What if it kept cell-dividing and continued to grow?  I imagined the headlines:  Meringue gigantesque mange St-Germain-en-Laye (“Giant Meringue eats St-Germain-en-Laye").  We solved the problem before disaster could strike.  We ate it.

Soon we noticed, in the center of the square , a monument to Claude Debussy.  I approached the sculpture to explore it more closely, wondering in what way it might evoke the composer or his music.  Somewhat cryptic, it depicts Debussy from the waist up, holding onto a cane, also incomplete, and sitting atop what appears to be — and here my imagination was starting to get the better of me — a colossal meringue, the residents of St-Germain-en-Laye trapped within!

 

 

Well, maybe not.  I struggled to return to earth and finally calmed my imagination, trying a more analytical approach.  La mer?  Nothing wave-like, no fish, shells, or boats.  Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune?  No goat-hoofed creatures or panpipes.  Pelléas et Mélisande?  No crowns, rings, or caves among the wreckage under Debussy’s torso, only . . . wait.  What is that near the base?  A hammer?  Could it be Boulez’s Marteau sans maître?  (Then again, maybe the sculptor forgot where he had set the hammer down and left it in the mold when he made the casting?)  Seriously, if anyone happens to be familiar with this sculpture and can offer any insight, your comments would be much appreciated!

On the same square we noticed a daycare facility with a name that would have resonance only in St-Germain-en-Laye:  “Children’s Corner,” in English, just like Debussy’s suite title.  At length, after our energy was restored by the sweet French poof, we found our way back to the tourism-office-cum-museum to wander through the memory of one of the most beloved composers of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries, to be described next.

 

 


The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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