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

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Mickiewicz and Chopin Part 2

Polish Expats in Paris

18 February 2011

(Read Part 1)

Our guide at the Musée Adam Mickiewicz — who was intelligent but had an enigmatic accent — described the mission of the museum, which is dedicated to research, maintaining archives, and displaying artifacts related to Polish artists and writers who lived or are living in Paris.  She called our attention to the fact that the displays are divided into three areas:  1) Adam Mickiewicz’s life and times, 2) The Salon Chopin and 3) a sort of catch-all patrimoine area into which all other Polish artists are gathered.  We were charged up and ready to go.

The guide first led us through the Adam Mickiewicz room — the largest section of the museum — and described how the peregrinating poet had bounced around the world:  Vilnius, Saint Petersburg (where he was befriended by Aleksandr Pushkin), Weimar (where he met Goethe), Rome, Paris, and finally dying in Constantinople (Istanbul).  Traveling like this sounded like a good idea to me (except the part about mort à Constantinople.)  In fact, I had just been to Weimar last year and I would have gone back there immediately after our stay in Paris if anyone had only hinted at an invitation.  In a display concerning Mickiewicz’s life in Weimar, there is a letter to Mickiewicz from Goethe, containing a wax seal with the latter’s distinctive, quirky likeness.


Goethe's Gartenhaus in Weimar, Germany


Mickiewicz’s stature in Poland is indeed comparable to that of Goethe in Germany.  As a poet of the Romantic period, Mickiewicz wrote works that idealized the struggle of his homeland for independence.  His writings (especially Dziady and Pan Tadeusz, the national epic of Poland) were an inspiration for many in their rebellion against the Russian Empire, and Mickiewicz brought Polish ideals with him to many parts of the world.  While in Paris, he was professor of Slavic literature at the Collège de France.

There is a magnificent moment in the twelfth book of Pan Tadeusz, when after the last old-Polish feast, Jankiel performs a Polonaise on the cembalo, a hammered dulcimer-like instrument:

After Mickiewicz died in Constantinople (while organizing resistance against Russia), his remains were moved to Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, Poland, where many venerate his tomb today.

While listening to our guide, I noticed that she happened to pronounce Polish names suspiciously well.  Her velar L (“L with stroke”: ) was too perfect.  This made me wonder even more about her curious accent when she spoke French.  I had initially assumed that she might be from one of the provinces, but now I was baffled.  When I was commenting to Colleen about the guide’s pronunciation of “,” a short, older woman happened to overhear us and approached.

She told us, in French, that her mother’s name was (the feminine form of the name), at which she immediately began to cry.  She spoke of the atrocities of World War II and of what had happened to her mother.  Then she showed us the tattooed number on her forearm.

This did not diminish the horrors that Mickiewicz had witnessed in nineteenth-century Poland for me, but only confirmed that the tragedies that took place in Poland in the twentieth century far surpass those of all previous centuries.

The woman now lives in Chartres, and still carries this pain with her.  There was little I could do to console her other than to offer my sympathy and give her an understanding ear.  She couldn’t stop weeping — this museum was in effect a pilgrimage for her.  How little we realize the pain in the lives around us every day.  May God bless this museum for preserving the Polish heritage for the French, for Poles living in France, and for the entire world. 

Our group ultimately moved into the Salon Chopin, which, to me, is the most valued element of the museum, and which I'll discuss 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.

Other Threads in This Blog: