Monday, 31 March 2008

Wagner and Paris - just look on the letterbox .

No, not another account of Richard Wagner's generally miserable stays in the city.

Just last year, a Parisian friend was passing the poky, dark entrance to the courtyard where the composer once had rooms on the Rue Jacob in St Germain des Pres. For once, the locked front door had been left open. She couldn't resist the chance to see yet another of Wagner's many temporary homes. But once inside, she realized that she had no idea just which apartment had been his. A current resident was crossing the courtyard.
"Excusez-moi, Monsieur? Can you tell me where Richard Wagner lived?" The man thought for a moment, frowned, then said, "Why, you just look on the letter box. The apartment number will be under his name." A lovely thought - that a hundred and fifty years on, that letter box might still be there, elegantly calligraphed missives dropping into it, while the utility bills and junk mail fill its neighbours.

A few blocks away on the quays of the Seine across from the Louvre is the Hotel du Quai Voltaire. Wagner stayed there too, as did Sibelius, Camille Pissaro, and Oscar Wilde among others. Last year, for my birthday on January 22nd, I had, what I thought was the brilliant idea of renting Wagner's old room and celebrating right there, where according to the hotel reception, he worked on part of Die Meistersinger. I'd have to verify that with Britain's Wagner experts, Messrs Millington or Spencer ,but until I do, the idea of sleeping in a room that might have been the birthplace of the great quintet or even a few bars of the prize song is beguiling. Alas, last year, the builders were in the room - boom boxes and bum cleavage are not quite what I had in mind. Still, it's a plan to file away for a future grey Paris winter.

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