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.


Impression, maison

Ravel and Le Belvédère Part 1

25 February 2011 

“I think and feel in sounds.”

— Maurice Ravel, quoted in Jules Renard’s Journal, 1907


On previous trips to Paris, in view of the fact that we were traveling elsewhere in France as well, we had always rented a car and roulé — rolled (see Driving in France). For this visit, as we were to remain within the limits of the city with the exception of today’s excursion, we had decided to traverse the underground empire of le Métro, Paris’ vast subway system.

Our targets today were museums dedicated to the two greatest French composers of the twentieth century (both strategically located outside of Paris and off the beaten path), Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.

Getting to these museums appeared to be child’s play when compared with other days on our agenda, belying the fact that a complex three-dimensional sequential-move puzzle algorithm was required to negotiate a myriad of métro, suburban (RER), and national (SNCF) trains with split-second timing.  But, as they say, “Impossible n’est pas français” — impossible is not French.



And so, at 8:38, we took the métro Line 1 to station Concorde, where we had two minutes to catch Line 12 to Gare Montparnasse, where we then had four minutes to run to catch the SNCF to the village of Montfort-l’Amaury, about 45 kilometers west of Paris, and where the Maison-musée de Maurice Ravel is located.

This first stage was not so difficult when compared with others of the day, disregarding a few disquieting moments of mystification at French logic.  The ride into the countryside took 36 minutes, and made for a pleasant shift in the color spectrum from the gray of urban Paris to innumerable, lively shades of green.  When we disembarked from the train at the Montfort-l’Amaury station we were greeted by bushes, trees, one country road, and a few clouds in the sky who seemed to be minding their own business entirely.

This was as complete a set of directions to the Ravel house as I could wrest from multiple web sites after a heated online contest that extended over three days.  It was as if Montfort-l’Amaury were still lost in the Middle Ages, or at least in some languid era before ViaMichelin.com.  When we had finally arrived in the village and they heard us speaking English to each other, would they be aware that la guerre de Cent Ans had ended in 1453?

Standing in front of the train station, we wondered:  now where to?  There was no bus stop, no taxi stand, and alack, we had no cell phone with us this time.  I chose not to become unraveled.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.)  So we began walking and a short distance from the station we encountered an étalage de légumes (vegetable stand).

I inquired of the young man who sold tomates, haricots verts, and aubergines, “Bonjour, monsieur.  Où est Montfort-l’Amaury?”

“Elle est par là,” he said, pointing towards some hills beyond us.  He had a look of concern —was this because we were not traveling en voiture, I wondered?

But then, I had the same concern that we were obviously not in an automobile.  “Merci, monsieur.  Au revoir.”

After thanking him, we began padding in the general direction in which he had pointed.  Soon we came to an interchange for an autoroute, part of France’s massive toll road system.  Colleen thought we should take the autoroute, although we would not be traveling at the minimum speed of 80kph, not to mention the maximum of 130.  I had a slightly different opinion.

“Look.  He pointed this way.  If we started walking on the autoroute, we would be going this way or that,” I said, pointing over my shoulder and around my back simultaneously.  “Besides, people aren’t allowed to walk on the autoroute.”

So we walked under the overpass of the autoroute and when we came out on the other side, there, like a proverbial needle poking out of a haystack (une aiguille dans une botte de foin), was a church steeple protruding from the trees, three hills beyond us.


. . . une aiguille dans une botte de foin


As we stared at the haystack needle I said out loud (in French, to make a point):  “C’est trop loin d’ici . . .”

At this point I had realized that if we were to walk — about 3 kilometers — although the day was pleasant enough, we would not even be able to crawl through the time window of the museum’s hours for tours today.  I looked up to heaven for a moment and then I recalled that the French have a saying:  Mieux vaut plier que rompre.  (Better bend than break).

So I bent my arm and stuck out my thumb to faire de l’autostop and made sure that Colleen (as she looks even more harmless than I do) was in front of me as I faced the traffic coming our way.  I hadn’t hitch-hiked since I was a kid.  (No, I take that back.  I hitch-hiked once a few years ago when I was stranded at a Hungarian rodeo . . .)

Soon a little blue Peugeot stopped just beyond us and we ran toward it with extreme delight.

We piled in the back seat.  The man driving had in fact been to the United States before; his daughter was in the front seat while in the back seat with us sat an exchange student from Queensland, Australia.  While traveling the several kilometers to Monfort-l’Amaury, we discussed our three respective countries:  France, the U.S., and Australia.  With exceptional kindness, our driver brought us right to the door of the Maison Musée Maurice Ravel and after a heartfelt “Merci beaucoup,” we poured out of la petite voiture.



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: