Most recently, I was a friend of Louis Vierne, titular organist of Notre Dame. As a woman I was not his lover but a devoted and empathetic companion. My name was Muriel Charlotte Romée (incidentally, the family name of St. Joan), and, though a maid and a partisan in the resistance, I was neither incarcerated nor immolated. I passed in the bleakest of decades, the 1950s, in a small, furtive, comfortable, nondescript flat. Sere. That is the word I should have used had I been a novelist. I had chosen a life which smelled increasingly of dry books and sherry.
As a man (So many souls were being reborn into the world after the devastation of the Great War, there was much confusion.), I was a pianist who wrote for Piaf and later Montand, and performed with Russian, often Jewish émigrés. I was inspired by their chromatic descensions of each minor chord. Very much like DuChamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” of my youth. I suggested they modulate this into an emotional landscape of far greater continent than the repetitive story of loss and regret. After all, the war and revolutions were over, and they were living in France now. George Gershwin, Russian Jewish by descent and a native of New York City, conferring over champagne and black coffee, agreed. He did not share the brimming darkness or antediluvian wariness of his parents’ compatriots. Gershwin, an American, was totally immersed in the future of our brave--and glamorous--new world.
So much suddenly died with him.
There had been an invitation to visit California, but that would not happen now--not, at least, until a transmigration.
Louis Vierne did not succumb. He was not glamorous. Not at all. Highly educated in music theory and history, he did not acknowledge dark, jagged “improvisations.”
Louis longed for the dusty, golden age of the latter nineteenth century, the apex of intellectuals. His heart was quiet, proper. We would often sit together after his daily mid-afternoon rehearsal. Silent as siblings, sipping. He would not metamorphose into the age of jazz and global industrialization of a new Rome. Subtlety and grace would vanish, he feared. What had not been accomplished by The Great War would certainly be executed now.
Vierne expired in the first days of the last truly European summer.
He did not witness the removal of the stained glass windows from Notre Dame for safe storage two years later. I was present to assist and stood before the pipe organ where he had died (as had been his wish). I touched the octave where his head last rested.
The date is noted in my diary: September 11, 1939 [five days before my father’s twelth birthday].
His companion Muriel died. Decades passed as years. I suddenly became aware of my soul drifting into an adolescent body growing in an anonymous, flat-breasted patch of a society where stone is set upon stone.
The rest of me became a great barrier (as of sand) falling back into the sea this next boy would be inclined to discover.
La portail (de la Vierge) [#29]
© 2009 Fammerée
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Photographs by Susan Aurinko
Title link: Pierre Cochereau performs one of Louis Vierne's "Pièces de Fantaisie" on the pipe organ of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.
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