I met Anna and Cez for breakfast. They looked like twins in their similar bobble hats – a comment they told me they often receive. It was so funny because Anna and I were both wearing raincoats featuring umbrellas. They walked with me to Gare du Nord. They were planning on spending the day in Montmatre. I, however, was bound for my first full day adventure out of Paris, to visit the house of Maurice Ravel. As usual I was apprehensive about negotiating the vast expanse of the Gare du Nord, finding the right Metro line, and then transferring to a regular train. However, as usual, once the journey was underway I was fine. The train journey took an hour, rather than the 35 minutes that I had seen scheduled, but I appeared to have taken a stopping train rather than an express. Flat farmland was the order of the day and it reminded me of ‘down South.’ The village is 44 kilometers SW of Paris. I arrived at Gare de Montfort L’Amaury Mere at precisely 2:15 judging by my photo of the station.
The museum had told me that there were no buses to Ravel’s house from the station at the weekends (!) So I should take a taxi for the 3 kilometer walk. When I exited the station however, I found myself in the middle of nowhere. A few buildings were gathered around the station but no open shops. There was no-one working at the station and although there was a painted sign on the road with the word Taxi on it, there was no such conveyance occupying that spot and no phone number posted close by. I consulted my google map and set off walking but soon gave up at a heavily trafficked roundabout. My tour of the house was scheduled for 2:30. What to do? I decided to search for taxi on my Google Maps Explore feature and found a phone number listed that was only a couple of miles away. I managed to make myself understood, and 7 minutes later a taxi miraculously arrived and whisked me to Maurice Ravel’s house – with 2 minutes to spare. I asked the driver if he could pick me up later but he explained that he’d be off duty by that time but he wrote down on a piece of paper the number of his friend that I could call when I needed a taxi back. Hmm . . .
The door of the house was closed. There were no lights on inside and it felt a bit weird to ring the doorbell but I had no alternative. It was immediately answered by a lady who thankfully spoke excellent English. “Come in, come in. Are you Heather?” Whew. I’d made it.
There were only 5 people on the tour. There’s a maximum of 6 since the museum is really Ravel’s home as it was when he lived there, rather than a museum. We were issued with protective bootees because we would be walking through the rooms and halls on his carpets, not limited to peering into each room through the doorway as is so often the case, such as at the Bronte parsonage in Haworth. The two other couples were French speaking so I couldn’t chat to them but I did get the undivided attention of my guide when she gave me the English version of all that I was seeing. The rooms were tiny, mostly with dark vivid colored wall paint. Stenciling had been done by Ravel’s own hand. His Japanese room were full of Japanese prints and dainty tea cups. His music room has the desk on which he penned Bolero, the Piano Concerto, L’Enfant et Les Sortileges and his Erard piano was next to it. The guide told me that if I was interested in playing it I could apply to the town council and I could schedule a time! That’s a must for my next visit, having played John Ruskins’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s pianos recently.
The tiny rooms were covered in little gadgets. One was an ash tray that turned into a sculpture of a snail when turned upside down. There were models of birds that opened their mouths, wind up musical toys and lots of games. His father had been an engineer and Maurice had a life long fascination with toys that moved.
I had glimpsed a sign that said ‘no photography’ but I had my phone in hand and I wasn’t prevented from taking a few pictures. I’m always fascinated by the views from windows that creative people have and I took several photos of the views from the windows. The house is on a road that is just above a small village to one side and to the other it lies below a steep hill on which are the ruins of an ancient castle. Ravel had constructed a Japanese garden on the side overlooking the village with the church tower rising above.
His bed was very elaborate and he was very proud of his bathroom with its deep bath. A hot water tank was an unusual item in a house in the early 1900s, as was a shower. Perfume bottles lined the shelves. He lived here alone, never married, though he made proposal of marriage to a close friend. She said she was waiting for a second asking which never came, and so he never married. He commented that he was too shy. On a trip to the U.S he met George Gershwin who asked him for a lesson but Ravel refused, saying he couldn’t teach him anything new. Ravel listened to a lot of jazz and many of his compositions show the influence of that genre.
The tour lasted an hour and a quarter and when I left I went to explore the little village, population about half that of Hebden Bridge, with its famous church. The church was open and I had a look round but the only shop I could find open was a bakery where I bought a croissant. I was hungry but every other shop/cafe/bar/restaurant/bistro was closed. Saturday is half day closing! I couldn’t even get a drink. I explored the deserted streets of this little village which seems to be stuck in a time warp and then set about finding a taxi back to the station. Victor Hugo stayed at a friend’s house in the village several times and wrote the “Ode aux ruines” as a memory of the town. I called the number my earlier taxi driver had given me but I couldn’t make myself understood. I talked, someone replied and then I got ‘hold’ music. At least, that’s what I thought it was. But after holding for a while nothing else happened. I tried the number again, got the same ‘live’ person and then again it went to music. Hmmm. I had no idea if a taxi was on its way or not! I waited half an hour unsure how to proceed. And then I saw lights on in a shop. It was getting dark by this time. It turned out to be a shop selling bottles of wine. I explained my dilemma and the server took control immediately and called the number. A taxi would be there to pick me up and take me to the station in half an hour. “Was he on his way from my previous call?” I asked.”No!” I decided to spend the half hour walking up to the castle built in 996 on the hill of Montfort. The town was the seat of the Montfort family from the 11C with Guillaume de Hainaut. His son Amaury Ist (1028-1053), had the ramparts built which you can still see. The lordship of Montfort-l’Amaury was created in favor of the sons of Simon IV (1165-1218). During the war of 100 years the castle was destroyed by the English! Only the donjon tower, built in the 12th century remains. A group of adults, some of the women wearing high heels, were watching their various offspring attempting to climb the ruined walls. It all looked very dangerous, especially since the steep pathways were very slippery. It reminded me of exploring the castle belonging to the Parr family (as in Henry Vlll’s wife Catherine) above Kendal last October.
I headed back down to the town square and within a few minutes my taxi arrived. I’d checked the train times and at this time of day the trains were every hour. I really didn’t want to get stuck at the station for an hour. It really was in the middle of nowhere. I got in the taxi. “Vite!” I said pleadingly, “Vite!” I realized that I didn’t have any change less than an 50 Euro note and when we had ‘vited’ it to the station I saw that the charge on the meter was 12 Euros and 80 cents. I think the driver picked up on my urgency and he threw 40 Euros back at me and urged me to ‘Allez.’ I ran under the underpass onto the far platform and in about 30 seconds the train arrived. Another Whew moment. The double decker train was just the ticket. I changed metro stations at Montparnasse, another huge station. I don’t know how people with heavy bags, or people with mobility problems manage. There are so many stairways to deal with.
I chose to get off at Gare l’Eau and when I came up from the underground I thought I’d landed in Africa. Dozens of street vendors, mainly selling brightly coloured sneakers, were displaying their wares directly on the sidewalks and the place was teaming with perspective customers. It had been raining on and off for most of the day but now it was raining in earnest. I wondered how Anna and Cez were getting on exploring the city in the rain. Aparently they were now going out to explore the Ober Kampf district. After half and hour back in my room and having a much anticipated cup of tea I headed out to find dinner on Blvd Saint-Denis. The rain was coming down by the bucketful just as I left my apartment and I was tempted to go to the first eatery I could find in order not to get drenched, but finding that the first two places were fast food places I gave up on that idea and found a lovely restaurant , Chez Louis where I could sit outside yet again, devour Pasta Carbonera and a pint of 1664 while watching the world go by on this, my last evening in Paris.
A photo of a man with an umbrella crossing the street taken from my table became my first watercolor painting that I worked on on my return from Paris. It turned out to be very apt since a week to the day since leaving Paris my town was flooded and I had to spent a night in a hotel since the water at the door of my apartment building was waist deep.