Monday, 4 July 2016

Watching the stained glass

We spent tonight at a concert in Saint Pere, Chartres, given by the Instrumentarium of Chartres. The Instrumentarium has commissioned luthiers to create musical instruments modelled on the sculptures and paintings in the cathedral, and the concert brought together the different sonorities of instruments and voices in this medieval church.

What fascinated me was the change in the stained glass. When we went into the church just before nine in the evening, the sun was golden, and the yellow stain and deep red of the windows glowed like flame. Even the roof was gilded with the light.

Half an hour later, the same windows seemed bleached, huge areas of white predominating, and the cool blues more prominent than the red or yellow. It was as if the temperature had dropped.

Later, Chartres en lumiere saw the glass lit from the inside. (The photo below is from a few years back. Chartres en lumiere sees the city lit up at night from April to October, until midnight, when the fairy cathedral turns back to stone.)

Most of the time, when we go to look at stained glass, we see it for five minutes. (Even worse, we see it in a museum, with a standardised, level light behind it.) But when you sit beneath a stained glass window for an hour or more, during a service or a concert, you begin to understand how its moods change; how the colours shift and shuffle, according to the sun and the weather. It's like the difference between meeting someone once, and knowing them so well you can tell what they're thinking just by looking at their face.

I think there's a message here for any traveller: take your time. Stay in a place long enough to see its different moods; the way a town wakes up, gets going, spends the long tired hours of a hot and dusty afternoon, prepared for night. See it in different lights; sunrise, sunset, the lurid stormy light of a sudden squall, or the slanting tearful light of a moist evening. You can hit five temples a day in India, but you'll never understand as much from that kind of travel as you will from spending a whole day in one of the great temples, like Meenakshi's in Madurai, or the Vipaksha temple in Hampi.

And when you take your time, you'll find one time when you get through the tourist appearances and see the place for what it is. Like the early morning in Pushkar, when I saw the sweet sellers stirring their cauldrons of halwa and heard shopkeepers singing 'Hari Krishna, Hari hari' on their way to work, or the indie concert I heard in a little cafe in Malang, Indonesia, which ended up with my being introduced to the artists and taught how to make 'rempah indo' spice tea.

No comments:

Post a Comment