I was scheming over coffee just this morning on how to get back to Paris.
I often get an itch for her attention, but not every morning, so when the NY Times came in a flash message on both my computers and my iPhone, “Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is Engulfed in Flames,” I wondered if she had been calling to me. If somehow she knew she needed the love of her adorers today.
I love Paris and Parisians: the art, the food, the smells, the attitude. I have only smoked 13 cigarettes in my life and most of them have been in Paris. I can think in the language if I try and my accent is so good that Parisians often ask if I am Swiss, which I take as a huge compliment, considering that I am definitely not even close to fluent.
Photos: Karin Laine McMillen
I detest the tourists and if it were not for my insistence on carrying my giant Nikon everywhere, I would never be noticed.
I was first in Paris in 1990, performing as a soprano soloist with a two hundred voice choir and a 25-piece chamber orchestra. Before our concert in Notre-Dame, the conductor and I tested the acoustics, I; singing from the front of the church, and he beneath the rose window in the back. My voice traveled back to me for what seemed like an eternity. In fact, he had been timing it and he informed me that there was an eight-second reverberation.
It took four seconds for the sound to travel to the back of the church and four more to return. It still doesn’t quite make sense to me from a physics standpoint, but from the experience, it felt like the sound was all around you. This was heightened by the addition of an orchestra and large choir. We performed that evening with much slower tempi in order that the integrity of the harmonies could be appreciated. I had to rework all my breaths that afternoon.
It was July and sunny and I stood in the garden behind Notre-Dame singing. A small crowd gathered and listened as I repeated phrases, practicing. What I remember from the concert is an overwhelming sense of calm as I sang and listened to my voice return blended with the orchestra past notes and present.
As I stood looking up at the complicated multi-domed ceiling, the realization of the magnificence of the cathedral and the gift of sound she gave warmed me and seem to entrust me with infinite breath.
When I took my mom to France last year, we stood in line outside the cathedral waiting to walk through. Multiple Asian brides and their photographers were setting up shop in front of the immense wooden doors.
As my mom and I walked inside I recognized the sounds I remembered. Air, hushed whispers, a mass being intoned, all wafting around me in a sound billow. My mom begged me to sing for her as we walked through. I refused as I thought it inappropriate, and not conducive to worship. But in my mind, I heard my voice reverberating through the cathedral.
And I smiled.