If you don’t explore, you can never discover. What began on Saturday as a simple adventure turned into a vast exploration, which lead to many discoveries. A friend and I went to visit the cathedral of Nantes. On the way, in front of a tiny church, there were white tents. What was under those tents? A surprise greater than gold – books!
There was a used book sale and the books were in good condition…and they were cheap. I didn’t have any money with me at the time, but I found out that the book sale is every Saturday. I know I don’t have much room in my suitcase, but I must have some room for books!
Since we were already in front of the small church, we went inside. It was clearly not a tourist destination and was a church used by the locals. Feeling out of place, we continued on our journey to the cathedral of Nantes.
Inside the cathedral, one could truly appreciate the architecture. I am amazed by the intricate details that can be chiseled into stone. How did they, without the assistance of modern machines, manage to move and sculpt such high ceilings? How did they precisely create the walls? Someone, I’m sure, knows the answer, but I am content to observe in wonder.
Under the cathedral is the Roman Crypt. Who doesn’t want to see a crypt? We went under the church, into a dimly lit chamber. The ceiling was extremely low, but I was finally able to touch the ceiling! Old buildings are perfectly built for a short person like me!
The crypt, it turns out, was not really a crypt anymore. It was more of an underground museum. There was information on the history of the cathedral. When we saw the interior of the cathedral, we saw that a vast majority of it was under construction. When we saw the history of the cathedral, we saw that it seemed to always be under construction. There were fires and catastrophes. So, they had to repair the cathedral, but when they did there were fires and catastrophes. So they had to repair the cathedral…Repeat until you reach the year 2013 where the cathedral is under repair.
When we walked out of the cathedral, we saw a church spiral in the distance. Why not try to find it? So, we walked in the direction of the church spiral (which led us past a convoy of heavily armed police men and two guards in front of an important looking building). Every now and then, we would lose sight of the spiral, but we kept going until we ran into a giant, gothic church.
We stepped inside. It was completely dark. There were only a few candles providing light. It was also deathly silent. We were the only living creatures in that place. I’m convinced not even a church mouse was there. In the beginning, the dark quiet was peaceful, but then it started to take on a sinister feeling. This was something out of a horror movie. Two American students, murdered by undead, possessed Satan-worshipper. We decided it was time to leave, but on our way out, we saw this in a confessional – a rag toy, which probably belonged to a little kid. But where was the kid now? And why was it so utterly dark?
We made it out alive, into broad daylight. The church was certainly interesting, they even have mass in Latin, but it was still an eerie experience.
On our way back home, we spotted a giant building, which ended up being the Museum of Fine Arts. It was under construction. We also went to the only skyscraper in Nantes. We took an elevator to the top of “Le Nid,” which means “the Nest.” From there, we could see all around Nantes. Of course, it was raining so it wasn’t a very good view. We will have to go back when it is sunny…if it is ever sunny in Nantes.
I ate dinner in my room and then ended my evening with a group of international students. We met in the kitchen of a dorm and talked the evening away, although I was tired and easily was home before the stroke of midnight.
Sunday, however, proved to be just as interesting. I went to the opera at the Graslin Theatre. It only cost five euros for students! Five euros! Of course, we were up high, but we could still see the stage and hear the music. The opera was a German opera called “La Rose Blanche” (which is the title of the opera in French. In English, “The White Rose”). Do you know the story of the White Rose? Well, it’s actually based on a true story. Time for a history lesson.
World War II. Imagine you are a German student at the University of Munich. Imagine that you do not agree with the Nazi party. What do you do? Well, if you are Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl (brother and sister), you become a member of the White Rose. It was a peaceful resistance group. They distributed flyers and painted graffiti against the Nazi party. Unfortunately, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl were caught, tried, and, ultimately, executed.
Udo Zimmermann, the composer of the opera, places his opera in the final hours of Hans and Sophie. They have been caught and are awaiting their deaths. The opera consists of only two individuals – Hans and Sophie. They are alone on a bare stage consisting of two chairs, a wall and a dirt floor. It is minimalistic, but effective. The focus is not on actions, but on thoughts. If you had just a few hours to live, trapped in a room, what would you think?
The opera follows their anger, their sadness, and their acceptance of their deaths. While there aren’t many props, the two actors used them effectively. The woman playing Sophie in the beginning throws off her coat, as if she is casting away the thought of death. She puts the coat back on near the end of the play, just as she has accepted her fate.
Lighting also played a key role in the opera, often symbolizing death. Hans and Sophie run away from a spotlight in the beginning and, when they are least accepting of death, they are in minimal light. However, at the end when death is certain, the stage is brightly lit and Sophie’s last words are heard, “Am I to be hung or beheaded?” as the stage plunges into darkness. We never see Hans and Sophie arrested. We never see them executed. What remains is what is in-between, the small moment of life before the end.
How did I understand all of this if the opera is in German? Luckily, the theatre has an electronic screen with the words in French. I heard the beautiful German songs, read the French words and analyzed this information in English. It was a little tricky, but I simply adored the opera. It was well-done and, in my opinion, the woman playing Sophie had excellent control of her voice. She was able to convey a vulnerability that is necessary for the role while still maintaining the clarity of pitch.
Okay, okay, okay. I’m a music/theatre lover. I’m weird, I know. But you have to admit…an opera for five euros? That’s something worth doing! This was the final show of “La Rose Blanche” and the director began to speak. He didn’t have a microphone, so it was difficult to hear, but then an old man shuffled out on stage. I think it may have been the composer himself. The crowd went wild. I was mystified. Had I just seen Zimmermann? I may never know.
When the opera was over, I went to a café with the two girls I had gone to the opera with. I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate (my first since coming to France) and we talked. It was a very European day – the opera and then a café with friends.
My mind is still at the opera and with Hans and Sophie. They were university students, like me. Would I have the bravery to join a group in silent resistance? Would I be willing to die for the belief of democracy? Would I let my last words be, “Es lebe die Freiheit!” (“Long live freedom!”) as Hans said?
Morale of the weekend: You never know what will happen when you venture out, especially to the opera.