Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Little finds yield big rewards and today I went into a nearly empty restaurant called Le Rauaillac, not a place you are likely ever to find in a guide book and rather ordinary when measured against most checklists. Diet and the dollar factor into just about every meal, and I am not out to find the fanciest and most fashionable spot for most any meal, certainly not for a late lunch. This place had a Russian menu and I was served a plate of Ravioli stuffed with mashed potatoes and gorgeously browned in a hot skillet. Incredibly tasty and accompanied by a pitcher of Cotes du Rhone. Relatively inexpensive and really good. Just up the street is Musee Carnavalet, where Madame de Sevigne wrote the majority of those fascinating letters. They actually have her desk here, beneath the oil painting of her that is the most widely distributed one. The museum is much more than the madame, as it chronicles the history of Paris from its early days with very strong displays of decorative arts, plus paintings. Since I am getting my bearings it is nice to see an painting depicting the island where I am staying, and the neighboring Ile de la Cite, as they looked several hundred years ago.
Tonight I heard a concert by a string quartet that has established a benchmark against which I will measure all other chamber music performances while I am in Europe. The Louvre is open on Wednesday evenings until 9:00 p.m. and one of the reasons to pay attention is that there is a series of performances which are held in the Louvre Auditorium concurrent with the open galleries. The concerts, however, extend well beyond 9:00, so when you depart and climb the winding staircase which gets you out of the pyramid you are a part of a relatively small crowd as compared with the masses in this space during the day. Relatively small, I note. A full house (looks like the hall holds about 500 people) had collected to hear Quatuor Hagen perform three string quartets, two by Haydn and one by Mendelssohn. They performed incredibly well, especially with Haydn’s Hob III, opus 75, which opened the performance. Breathtaking precision and dynamics, superb musicianship, I just cannot express quite how magic they were except to say that they played these pieces just about as well as it is possible to play them. Goodness they were terrific. And my luck continued with seats. Because it was a sellout, I had to buy a reduced price “chair seat” at the back of the hall, unhandy because when seated you cannot see the stage at all. So I grumbled about this to a very kind usher and at the last moment, as the lights were dimming, he came over and said, “I will seat you”, and led me down the middle of the hall to the fourth row, and seated me right on the aisle! Again, it was the exact seat I know I would have chosen had I had the run of the house. I was so close I could see the twinkles in the eyes of the musicians on those rare moments when I was looking. Mostly I kept my eyes closed and savored the sublime.

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