I heard it for the first time eleven years ago, on a Wednesday evening in Abu Dhabi. It felt like a call. More than a call, an invitation. A portal to end-of-19th-century Paris. Don’t ask, it just took me there.
To a place and an epoch close enough to our time to make the French Terror and the Napoleonic wars become knowledge which people of that place and time learnt, rather than memories they recollected. Close enough in time for Paris to have already been transformed by the works of Haussmann and his contemporaries into a very viable first version of the lovely city it is today.
Close enough in the mist of time to keep shining this specific Parisian touch which spanned from the end of the 19th century up until the great war. La Belle Époque, as it came to be known in retrospect.
La Belle Époque can hardly be framed in words to try to explain what it was or how it felt. Two world wars and a cold one right after, two major economic depressions, many global scale pandemics and the rise of terrorism, among other horrors since that time, made sure it would not be possible. Words hardly have any meaning after that.
We could try to imagine it though, with the help of some music, or a painting, or a book maybe… It might have felt like being in one of the adventures of Arsène Lupin, not one revisited by Netflix with a 21st century twist but rather one crafted by Maurice Leblanc, the father of this peculiar gentleman burglar.
But back to Abu Dhabi. It was 2010, on a Wednesday evening, and I had just heard Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane in F sharp minor for the first time.
Composed as a piano and chorus piece in 1880, then re-arranged as an orchestral version in 1887, it was a perfect fit for the time and place it stood for: 19th century, Paris. Coordinates to which this time machine would hook me up ever since.
It would also put a pen in my fingers and some thoughts in my head. This is how it all started, in French of course, on a moleskine notebook, on a Wednesday evening in Arabia, leading years later to the post I am wrapping up today, in English, on a Friday evening in France.
Let the board sound