Non-Chronological Travel Notes (September 1979 - March 1980)

excerpts30th September When I get on the tram, in Zurich, I cross myself. To whom? Not to the tram, of course, but to the Power that gave some people (engineers, technicians, workers) the ability to create such public means of transportation: and to others (the passengers) the wisdom to care so much for keeping these tramcars, which are actually like swans, in such a good and clean shape. Some swans they are, the swan from Lohengrin, because it seems they are not actually advancing on rails, but rather gliding on the stream of a limpid and cold river, or on an air cushion, or being carried by an ether subtler than that of old alchemists. They travel on narrow rails, close to the pavement, they make way – painted in blue and white, strikingly fresh – , among the pedestrians, like a toy-train. And how comfortable they are, how frisky, how shiny! Like the silverware in the houses where the heroes of the honourable novels of last century would spend their lives. The motorman announces the names of the stations, which creates, it seems, an atmosphere of intimacy and communion. I love these diligent and smart trams: childish, foolish, paradisiacal. 11th OctoberThe most beautiful museum from the entire Switzerland: Kunstmuseum, in Basel. Much superior to all the others. Not by the value of its exhibits; by the fascination power of the building and of the interior yards, by an aura difficult to grasp and to define, by a special charm. Böcklin's presence. I don't know, I can't tell why: it overwhelms and seizes you from the first steps, you feel as if you were wrapt in a spell.Like with the great books and the musical or the dramaturgic works: it doesn't take you long to realise that it is different, it is something. Thinking of Walter Benjamin: each artistic work has its own aura, which is an essential element. This must be first remarked, understood. The cathedral (Münster): reddish colour. Here, the colour is the secret. Not the proportions, not the beauty of the monument. The scale of shades from red to yellow, going through brick-red, orange, pink, yellowish, purple, scarlet, cerise, cherry-coloured, golden, dark red, crimson-hued…The colour reigns autocratically, it obscures all the other characteristics. Nothing else matters. Paris. It is a cold, serene and sunny January morning. At Sainte-Chapelle. At the ground-floor: two or three persons. Upstairs: nobody. The stain-glasses, pierced by the glorious sun beams, are burning. Equally unsurpassed in beauty as those of the cathedral in Chartres. How should I answer to somebody who, having six hours at his disposal, would ask me what he must see in Paris? I would answer: Sainte-Chapelle, three squares (Place des Vosges, Concorde, Vendôme), an hour in the basement of Marmottan museum, where Monet's last paintings are exhibited. (What painting can become in its final stage: the matter disintegrated in essences: light, colour, energies. That basement is an enchanted cave: known by few, away from the centre, a privileged place in a Guénonian sense.) And – with the rapid elevator – in five seconds, up on Tour Montparnasse, at floor 56. Not at 58, on the terrace, where the visibility is not good. At 56, through the matted or transparent windows of the circular and closed gallery, where there is also the café. The altitude, on the third terrace of EiffelTower, is too great. From the Triumphal Arch, the square and the starlit boulevards are too close. The roof of Notre-Dame cathedral or the terrace of Samaritaine store offer a divine spectacle, focused partially on the water and on the bridges. From the MontparnasseTower, the perspective is perfectly calculated, and the effect of miniature-town is acquired, and everything can be clearly distinguished, you can see and observe the architectonic plan and the road plan better and unbelievably more amusingly and thrillingly than if you had a maquette. Concorde square for its splendour; Vendôme for its elegance and grace and because the ensemble and the details are all according to the golden number; Vosges for order and silky folds: it is the graphical urban representation of French classical tragedy. Paris, 11th FebruaryI get out of the subway at Notre-Dame-des-Champs, cross to the sidewalk of Raspail boulevard and take the rue Stanislas which leads me to boulevard du Montparnasse straight in front of the house where Eugen Ionescu lives. Rue Stanislas is a short and banal street. I suddenly feel overwhelmed by a euphoric disposition, of extraordinary happiness. I soon realise where it comes from: Paris' beauty is finally revealed to me, I have finally fallen in love with this city. I know it well: since long ago. When I was a child I used to come with my parents on our way to the carbonic acid baths at Royat, or we would simply come for a visit. Between 1937 and 1939 I used to live here. And there are only two years since I spent again two months and a half in several Parisian districts. My feelings towards the City of Light were always of admiration and respect. That's all. As for loving, I loved London and Rome. Not Paris. Admiration and respect, yes, undoubtedly, full and boundless. As for warmth, affection and love, not a bit. It is only now, eventually, towards the end, that my retinas get clearer and my eyes are more open; it is only now, on rue Stanislas, that I realise what has latently been happening inside me for some time: love, like flu, like a disease with a slow incubation period, has begun to burst out. Brussels, OctoberThe millennium of the capital, once residence of the dukes of Burgundy. A reminder of that state of great civilisation and elite culture. It is enough to be in the centre of the so-called Grande Place and to look around. It is one of the magical places of Europe, of high voltage and extremely harmonic. In the King's House – an exhibition by Roger van der Weyden, or de la Pasture, painter in Burgundy, whose paintings are characterised by discretion. The two forms of his name illustrate the Belgian bipolarity: Walloon, Flemish. One can see with Roger the dualities of the philosophy from later on; an abyssal psychology is outlined with the elegance of a senior completely in love with beauty. And in the buildings surrounding the square: gold and opulence, but also a slightly hypocritical restraint, a sense of proportions. The secret of the place is, I think, the right proportioning between ostentation and the cautious meekness. NovemberSeen through the windows of the study or of the living-room from the Eliades' Parisian apartment, Charles-Dullin square – formerly Dancourt, where the theatre Atelier is located – looks like a theatre itself (especially at night, when the town streetlights are on, followed by all the lamps behind the glass façade of the building where for many years had directed and played the one whose name was given to this rectangle of Parisian pavement). Red curtains from inside the foyers can be seen. In front of the few trees of the square there are some benches. The posters from the walls which are contaminated by what has been going on for such a long time under their assistance enliven the atmosphere, giving it dramaturgical tinges. I imagine I am at the balcony or in a box. All around the usual scenery of these streets: shops one after another. One is specialised in different sorts of cheese. A dye house. A food store. A bakery (in whose sumptuous window shops, three majestic gris-perle cats are either strutting or dozing), another food store, a confectionery. The lady from the bakery carefully advises me on the rhythm of buying bread and on its preservation – everybody here is preoccupied with choosing and preparing the food and maintaining their nation's gastronomic reputation. Everything concerning nutrition is treated very seriously, the quality and the quantity of the products are, as Hasdeu once said in a restaurant from the Ploiesti station, beyond any criticism. Lots of bicycles. And primary school children whose shouts fill the atmosphere with noise and mirth. I have a strong wish for sharing the Parisian life. The most attractive part – both in Geneva and in Zurich – is represented by the old quarters. It is, in both cities, on a portion of land situated on a slope. At Geneva, around St. Peter cathedral, at Zurich, on the left shore of Limmat, if the orientation is done according to the direction of the river flow. There, where the university and the polytechnic reign, the hill begins to rise. The streets are old, very narrow, sometimes like real lanes, small alleys, if not even passages, and here and there, they are replaced with steps that seem to have no final purpose. In this mediaeval cobweb, reminding one of an alchemic welter, on these dark and cobbled paths, three forces (the municipality, the commerce and people's taste), have succeeded in creating a world of luxury, fantasy and unreality. The houses remained as in the old times, the streets have not been widened, and lightening is done by electric bulbs hidden in old-fashioned street lamps. However, at the ground floor of all respectable buildings, shops have been installed, the vast majority of which are related to art: bookshops, second-hand bookshops, art galleries, shops with period furniture, porcelains, carpets, engravings, heteroclite objects; then, fashion shops, silks, confectioneries, watchmaker shops (the variety and the quality of the watches and clocks gives them the right to appear at the art rubric), toys (directly imported from fairy tales). Some are very tiny, you could take them for stalls; but the window shops are in such a way arranged that they give the former a fairy-like, fantastic, fabulous character. They convey not only an impression of luxury, but also of legend, of dream. It is an impression of masked and of fancy dress ball. Each corner is exploited and arranged with thorough care, with an absolute sense of beauty, with such an honest (or clever) lack of ostentation, with a generosity and an irresistible impulse towards spreading the most refined products of the mind and of human hands with a certain voluptuousness, a need for expansion and for displaying met with the art creators as well. The passer-by, caught in the magnetic field of two infinite lines (for the little shops form a chain) of temptations, forgets that he is in a district of refined and intelligent commerce; he thinks he is on the realm of enchantments, of goblins ready to fulfill any wish, or on the magic carpet of the Arabian nights, guided by Aladdin's lamp to the realm of delight, rest and joy of the eyes.In the evening, the ingeniously lightened window shops heighten the impression of unreality. The contrast between the obsolete character of the houses and the modernist fret of the things displayed at the ground floor intensifies: the window shops shine victoriously, a world obviously not fallen from the sky, but, more likely, coming out of deep smitheries, upon a clap of hands of some sorcerer craftsmen, a world on the border of life and dream, arranged, pompous, adorned, stiff, the world of Hoffmann's tales and of the dolls which were more tempting than the real girls, but lacking voice. These fill the window shops with an array of fineries, precious stones and toys meant for the soul and for the spirit, for man's insatiable desire for useless, splendid or adorable things, which should help him face the sordid every day life and elude the premises of human condition. Cartea romaneasca, 1987

by N. Steinhardt