Tuesday, April 8, 2008

fallen


It's unlucky to walk widdershins around a church, but the arrows indicating the direction of the visit are emphatic. I drop a euro into the box and take a pamphlet that tells me the name of the bishop who founded the abbey and how the building was destroyed: by fire, by Vikings, by Jacobins, and by fire again. There's a marble statue of St Francis Xavier holding a child and, propped against the wall, what look like Polish icons, red and black and gilded. In one of the little chapels behind the altar, a woman is kneeling, her face averted, her hair half-covered by a scarf. Two Americans are sitting in the last row of rush-seated chairs, talking quietly and gesturing at the low, heavy arches. Towards the back of the church is, unexpectedly, an inscription that says René Descartes is buried here.

I finish the circuit and stop in front of the final row of candles. In back of them is a painting of an angel soaring, wings extended. It's harder to make out the other figure, but I step forward until I'm pressed against the iron rail. His head points downward, his legs are splayed, his mouth is open. One hand is curled into a fist, the other flails at the air. Surrounded by painted darkness, he crowds the bottom corner of the picture. His face contorts with fear and rage and, clearly, he can see what's invisible to me -- the abyss that gapes beneath him as he falls.

18 comments:

STE said...

That last sentence makes my chest clutch, my throat tight.

CLC said...

I just got the chills.

Tash said...

Wish I was there. (In Paris, observing this. Not falling headfirst into hell.)

LawMommy said...

Ahhhhhhhhh....St. Germaine des Pres and the left bank...I am so nostalgic right now I might cry...

Gretchen

Caro said...

Wow I feel like I'm there with you.

niobe said...

Lawmommy: I am very impressed. I couldn't have pinpointed the location from my description. And I'm already here.

christina(apronstrings) said...

St. Germaine des Pres. *sigh* beautiful post, and not the first time, ms.lady.

The Nanny said...

I also got chills. I can just picture it.

Bon said...

i saw him...i remember him. i was there once, a summer four years ago, on my own. i walked a lot, wandered through museums and churches and cemeteries by day, drank wine at night. and if i'm remembering the place right, i saw those two angels. it was the falling one i liked.

LawMommy said...

I can only pinpoint it because I had a philosphy prof in college who was obsessed with Descartes. And I have a weird freaksih memory for obscure things...

Amanda said...

I can see it. What an incredible description.

Ahuva Batya said...

What a haunting description. I love how you paint with your words.

Zee said...

"Excessively refined persons have a communion with the abyss; but is not civilization the agreement, slowly arrived at, to let the abyss alone?"

Lori said...

There is nothing quite like wandering through churches in Europe. Haunting and peaceful all at once. At least, that is how I always felt.

Love the picture.

Lisa b said...

Ah I knew I should remember where Descartes is buried.

Am going to quiz my friend who is math head to see if she knows.

gorgeous description.

Julia said...

Glad it's invisible to you. May it stay that way.

This and the discussion in the comments is making me want to go back to Paris. Only spent 23 hours there, once. Clearly wasn't enough to find this place. Will need a lot more time next time.

Christine said...

*sigh*

this post made me a bit.

and that word--widdershins--it is a wonderful words. i am going to try and use it several times a day from now on!

Antigone said...

It isn't unlucky if you walk backwards while doing it.