I don’t remember exactly how or when my relationship with this building went from first visit to full blown love affair, but each time I’m in Paris, going to the Garnier is like going back to visit an old, familiar friend. I like to spend 2-4 hours meandering through; stopping here and there to sit and journal, read or write.
My first visit was in 1992 when the facade was dark grey, blackened by years of built-up pollution (common to monuments throughout Paris). I was there to introduce my grandmother to this great city, which many of her generation never expected to see. We took in a ballet at the Garnier (it’s near exclusive use since the construction of the more modern Opéra Bastille)… and it was magical. These days though, the facade is much brighter, having undergone extensive cleaning in the interim. My old familiar friend got a proverbial facelift!
“To what extent can you characterize a building as familiar?” you may ask. The best way I can explain what I mean is this: This room is the Opéra‘s library. Musical scores from some of the most well known composers are only inches away, albeit behind mesh doors for their protection.
I am taking this photo while seated on my favorite bench in that room. I can easily spend an hour or more sitting here. Most of the people going through, do so with a camera or iPhone perpetually to their eye… experiencing this incredible room only secondarily… their experience mediated by technology. Many walk the entire length of this corridor without removing the electronic appendage from their face. These will without question leave with an experience of the building… but I have a familiarity.
While it may seem a pretentious thing to say, it is based on the fact that, were we to go there right now, I could point to the two boards in the floor just off to the left, that always creak when someone walks on them. I could also point out the neon light (third furthest away on the right-hand side, in the photo) which has a constant hum to it. I am more familiar with that room for I have sat there both when it’s been full of guests and when it’s been empty and nearly silent. With each visit, I’ve become more and more familiar with it.
So it is not a stretch to speak of the Opéra Garnier as an old familiar friend. While I’ve experienced it with a sense of awe given the absolute grandeur, I’ve also gotten past the awe and have become aware of the little oddities that make it so unique.
Isn’t that like having an old familiar friend of the human persuasion as well? You know not only the public side, but also the quirky little things that make them unique, the things that not everyone knows or appreciates.
Until next time old friend!