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.


Finding 21st Century Paris Part 1

11 February 2011

Marcel Marceau, the legendary French mime, had died just two weeks before on Yom Kippur, 22 September 2007.  He had already reached vieillesse when I had seen him years ago performing, as Bip, his Jeunesse, maturité, vieillesse et mort (Youth, Maturity, Old Age, and Death), so I guess it had to be the next logical step.  La France, and the world, has lost one of her most beloved.

When Marcel was buried at Père Lachaise, they played the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (Marcel included this music in one of his sublime mimodrames) and the Sarabande from Bach’s Suite No. 5 in C minor for Unaccompanied ‘Cello.

My wife Colleen and I had already made plans to travel to Paris, but it seemed fitting now to rendre nos hommages to the master of mimetic art by stationing ourselves in various parts of the city for impromptu (no, involuntary) re-enactments of Marcel’s Paris qui rit, Paris qui pleure :  Paris Laughs — Paris Cries, which, I was certain, we would be doing plenty of both up to the minute of our return flight.

So today, incidentally being Camille Saint-Saëns’ birthday, we were up at 3:30 a.m. and out the door at 4.  Perhaps presaging Paris, we encountered beaucoup de trafic on the freeway right away.  At one point we inched along, taking about half an hour to go one mile.  Would we make it on time? Then things opened up a little and we reached the San Francisco International airport, grateful to check in for our flight.  The flight had been re-routed, with one stop now in Texas instead of New York.

Once on the plane, I began to peruse the travel portfolio I had prepared for this trip but had barely the time to view in its final form.  I enjoyed scanning through the binder containing all the information we would need.  The six pages of the agenda were packed:  flight information, to-do lists by day, including concert venues and times, museum hours, historical sites, Métro information, everything arranged by arrondissement.  (Paris is neatly arranged into 20 arrondissements, which fittingly trace the lines of a vast escargot over the map of the city.)


“Voulez-vous être mon ami?”


To get myself into the mood, and to provide an infusion of poésie into the arduous task of researching the trip, I had dug out my tattered scores and reacquainted myself with the keyboard muses of Jean–Philippe Rameau, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, and Darius Milhaud.  I immersed myself — via compact disc — in many more composers as well, but especially Guillaume de Machaut, Marin Marais, Gabriel Fauré, and Pierre Boulez, who seem to speak directly to one’s core sensibilities.

I also managed to read a little, including George Sand’s Un hiver en Majorque (Winter in Majorca; trying to get a piano onto an island was not as easy as you might think), Patty Lurie’s Impressionist Paris, (this is neat: she tells you, for example, where to stand to have Caillebotte’s vantage point when he painted Rue de Paris, temps de pluie), Nigel Simeone’s Paris—A Musical Gazetteer (like the aforementioned book about painting, but about music: who did what, where and when), the twelfth-century tale Le Chanson de Roland (it’s exhilarating when Roland gives three blasts on the oliphant and Charlemagne comes running, but alas, too late), Mary Blume’s A French Affair:  The Paris Beat 1965-1998 (incisive, insightful essays on Parisian culture), and some of Mallarmé’s exquisite poetry (in French; poetry’s best defense lies in its untranslatability).  There are many more books that I might recommend, but these are the ones that I had recently read, at least those that come to mind.

Just prior to this trip I also viewed some films by French directors or with French themes including Renoir’s La grande illusion, Demy’s Peau d’âne, Wajda’s Danton, Malle’s Au revoir les enfants, Petit’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Dreyer’s La passion de Jeanne d’Arc, and Rappeneau’s Bon voyage.



And so, (back to the travel portfolio), enthused about the plans I put together, I began to share them with Colleen, but . . . one-half page into the agenda . . . she . . . fell . . . asleep.

Then I remembered the abbreviated night we just had.  For some reason, I didn’t feel sleepy — was it because my left arm hurt from excessively mousing on-line information the past few days?  Or maybe it was due to the fact that my fingertips hurt (in my haste this morning I had cut my fingernails too close).

En route from California to our connection in Texas we flew over the striking landscape of the desert southwest.  At one point we saw some features that were very similar to the well-known profiles of Monument Valley in the “Four-Corners” area.  I thought I could hear the driving synthesizer ostinati of Phil Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi.  Maybe it was just the jet engines.

We soon landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport where the panorama overflowed with cowboy hats and boots.  For local flavor, or maybe because we felt outnumbered, we found a Tex-Mex restaurant and ordered an enchilada dinner to share between us.  This was cheerfully brought to our table by a waitress whose accent — providing a nice touch of cognitive dissonance — caused me momentarily to forget the Alamo.  She had recently emigrated from Ethiopia.

Our next flight took us from Dallas to Paris.  (I once read somewhere that Texas and France are nearly equal in size, and apparently there is even a Paris, Texas, but vive la différence.)  We followed most of the Mississippi River up in tracing the arc of the globe toward Northern Europe.  Soon night fell (rather, we flew into it) and I slept for an on-flight record of three-and-one-half hours (which is about what I got last night — a little rough two nights in a row) and Colleen was able to sleep even more.  When I woke up, we were flying over Great Britain in dawn’s early light, and soon we landed at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle.



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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