This post was published to Cantrella’s Blog at 12:02:30 PM 3/29/2009
The day before I left on my pilgrimage to Chartres in France I spent some time with Sharon and Nancy. We sat on the pews in the kitchen and spoke of miracles. Sharon then shared with me another writing she had heard while in Chartres the town. It is all about the cathedral being a vessel of light. I lent them the CD Jenwah had just sent me from Hans Christian, playing his cello in the cathedral, they are currently residing in Wisconsin and met last year in Chartres. The music was beautiful yet moody, somehow sad and it made me realize that I would be listening for something more uplifting.
I left the new Medford airport on the 6am flight to Seattle. Past security, in the boarding area is one of my favorite Ashland artist’s sculptures an angel by Kevin Christman. There is a plaque on the pedestal explaining that her angel wings have been torn many times and sewn back together, it speaks about listening, light and healing from within.
I had a 6 hour layover before my direct Seattle to Paris flight; lucky for me I have a dear friend not far from the airport. Deb Bodett and I went out for breakfast, then we went downtown Tacoma for a swing through the Chihuly glass museum. It was closed but the modern museum was open so we ducked in there and the main exhibit was all about David Macaulay and his books, one of the most famous being ‘The Cathedral”. And there was wall after wall of drawings of the building of a cathedral.
This will be my 4th solo trip to Europe and while I am not all that good at speaking to people I don’t know I am leaving myself open to random conversations. I leave my book in the bag and stand around watching the crowd arrive. There is a large group of young people, they must have 3 guitars among them and they are all playing different songs. One of the girls starts speaking to me and tells me they are from Kenai, Alaska and are on their way to Rome where they will sing in the Cathedral there.
From the airport there is a bus into Paris to Gare Montparnasse and a train from there to Chartres. I love the ease of public transportation in Europe, it is so civilized. I am sitting on the left side of the train so I can see the cathedral in the distance as I arrive in Chartres a little after noon. I have a cell booked at the Maison St Yves. I say cell because this is a building which used to house the monastery. I get the very last room at the very top far end and it is the best room there. I can see the Cathedral spires from my bed. There is a window seat where I end up spending hours writing and listening over the course of my 6 days there. Oh yes and it is sunny!
My days find a rhythm. I breakfast at the Maison, I sing in the Maison chapel which has a brilliant loud resonance, I visit the Cathedral. It is cold inside so I find myself wandering the narrow village streets of the old town to warm up, down to the river Eure and along its history. I drink a coffee in the sunny square with the beautiful people and look for some lunch. I walk as many circuits inside the church as outside. I am doing sing prayer. I was walking clockwise into the future and counterclockwise to work out past issues. A teacher of mine once said “prayer is doing the work” and when I combine that with my idea of God as being a verb, well walking circuits and singing softly within a structure where people have been opening their hearts for century’s filled me with a clear calm.
I am here to listen for the music and it is everywhere. I visit other area churches and sing in them. The melodies never stop, I am full of them.
One day I take the walk up to the top of the north bell tower. The steps are worn stone and the spiral is steep and narrow. The views are breathtaking. Another day I go down in the crypt for a tour from a very typical brusque French man. It is the oldest part of all of this collection of stone and feels it.
On Friday morning I am awakened by a disturbed cat. At first I thought it was a daemon, but as I started to wake up I realized it was a cat in heat, and the first day of spring. It was days after I made my reservations for this trip that I saw I would be there on the Friday of the spring equinox. And as it turns out Friday is the only day they uncover the famous labyrinth. It dates from sometime around 1200 it is 261.5 meters to the center and is made of flagstone and black marble. There are many people taking their shoes off to do this walk, I am too cold for that and have never much agreed with the idea of suffering as a path to anything. So I walk into the center. There is a chant I hear and sing which I later record. The idea is the labyrinth allows a person to make a symbolic pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I befriended a woman who is doing the pilgrimage from her home in Dortmund, Germany. She walks on her holidays once a year. It has taken her two trips to get here. We have dinner together 2 nights and we take a short history tour of some of the windows from a man who when I asked if he spoke English, he laughed and said” like a Spanish Cow!”
On Saturday the small town was filled with families going to the farmers market and all that needs be done. The Maison started filling up with guests from America and Germany and it was much too busy about for any contemplation so I walked a good distance to the far hills of the cemetery. I was trying to have a conversation with the long passed, the standing mausoleums were very beautiful and the view back toward old town and the cathedral on the hill were glorious. I only got one loud harrumph in response to my queries. I was thinking it is that I was not speaking French. Somehow I was under the impression that spirit soul speak was beyond language. That evening back in “Our Lady of Chartres” I was honored to listen to the Madison, Wisconsin University sing for an hour, late when the church is usually closed. There were bats flying and dancing around the lofty ceilings. What a treat.
Sunday I decided to go to Mass. The altar boys were swinging the incense burner and I was taken back into another time. My maternal grandmother Louise Pifer was Roman Catholic and as children she would sometimes bring us with her to mass in the small town of Globe, Arizona. I have always made a point of attending the services of the local churches while I travel. And since it is in languages I don’t speak it becomes mystical and theatrical. I can assign my own meanings to their rituals. And so I did again. Later that day when I went back for some more sing prayer I was surprised by the hundreds of children that filled up the church. Turns out it was the French children pilgrimage day all over France. I walked out into the day and into another direction.
Monday morning was my last day before returning to Paris. I had met a German musician who was responsible for all of the Germans at Maison. He was doing some kind of retreat which included a private time before the church opened on Monday morning. I asked if I could join and he said yes. So at 8am I am standing with a crowd of 30 people who see me but don’t speak to me. Herlich arrives and we are let into the dark cathedral. Everyone wanders silently about until we hear a flute playing. The silence inside at this hour combined with the darkness is a blessing to witness. The flute coming from everywhere at once is humbling. After he plays on 2 different instruments I hear 3 chimes and notice everyone is heading towards the front of the cathedral. We form a circle and start singing. I join in quietly and smile and sing the vowels or hum along. We do ceremony, kind of like Chi gong. I am blessed and leave the church skipping.
Another fun part of the timing of this trip is that 2 dear friends of mine do a tour of France once a year and they are now here. We agree to meet in Chartres and when I check out of my cell and walk towards the church there is Elin Babcock coming toward me. Inside are the rest of the group with Michael Gibson, both are artists I have been members with in Ashland at Ashland Art works.
We are standing at the front of the church waiting to go down into the crypt when Elin asks if I will sing. It is frowned upon to make noise without an invitation but I figure I am leaving anyway so I find a place to focus, the ceiling above the main alter and start singing. I am not sure how long I sing when the ceiling lights up just where I am looking and takes my breath away. I turn to Elin who is in tears and ask Did you see that? She did not see anything and tells me that they were shushing me at first and then stopped. Before we leave Elin asks me again to sing. I suggest the back of the place, further away from the attendants. I turn on my small recorder and start to sing the sweetest song yet. Somehow it completely empties me. When I stop there are people all around standing still and silent. When I check my recorder it has turned itself off. There is no song recorded. Later, over a French beer, I am telling Michael this and pondering whither “Our Lady of Chartres” decided she wanted this song for herself, to be kept in the cathedral,when the lights in the pub we were in started to blink off and on for a least 30 seconds.
I found a hotel a block away from Elin and company called the Peace hotel and included myself in a 2 dinners with the group. Spent the day with another friend from Ashland, Karina Scott and anxiously awaited my flight back to Ashland.
I am home now and the music is still all the time in my head and I am up at all hours, editing and arranging and getting ready to record.
And yes I am still listening.
view from my bed