Reflections on a Fugue

It was a red eye flight. Six hours direct. Toronto to Paris. I didn’t sleep a bit. My French was terrible. I had no idea where I was staying. Severely jetlagged, I was in an altered state. Between the disorientation of having no clue where I was, no idea where I was going and wrestling with a language I had abandoned in the tenth grade, I struggled to make sense out of anything.

I was faced with a month in Paris playing in clown under the tutelage of Philippe Gaulier. I was open. No expectations. Ready for what life gave me. Yet, I was beginning this experience on very shaky ground. Nothing seemed ‘right’ to me. Lack of sleep can have that impact on my senses.

I remember the airport, customs, the dogs, the men in uniform. The automatic weapons were unnerving. Customs was painless. Everything was big. I followed the flow of traffic through De Gaulle airport.

I ended up on a train. Or a subway? Not sure but it traveled on rails. Where to? The Louvre seemed like a good place to start. Once I surfaced in the 8th I saw it: Notre-Dame.

I was in an altered state. I followed my feet. My feet followed my interest. Abandoning the Louvre I made my way to that sacred cathedral. Who was married there? Who was buried there? A swirl of grade 11 history whirled in my head.

Crowds of tourists shuffling through the candles, the incense, niches and sculptures. Stained glass depicting the stories of the faithful. Then the smells. All kinds of unknown smells. The farts of King Louis XIV clung to the ceiling. It was all so much. The moments come back to me in slow drips.

Sometimes a memory is an image. Sometimes, a story. In this case? A sound. But not a sound that I heard. It was a sound that I felt. The organ. Oh the organ of Notre-Dame. The organist launched into a Bach fugue. I was standing beside a pipe the size of redwood when it started. The sound it made? The low end sound shook the fillings in my teeth. I felt it in every nerve. I cried a little.

On this day, the day after the fire, I remember how the organ touched me. While people are contemplating rebuilding the church, I have only one concern. I want the organ fixed. I want to feel that music again some day.

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