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Monday, July 2, 2018

An Interview with Victor

That Friday morning I rushed to Le Consulat Café to meet Victor for a chat.  I was so excited to meet him as I have many questions to ask about his famous novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. When I arrived he was already there sipping a warm une noisette coffee.

I said:
“Bonjour Monsieur, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. I have abundant questions to ask, hopefully we can discuss them all and finish the discussion on time.”

“Tell me, mon amie… “

I said:
“Monsieur, the original title of your famous novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” is actually “The Notre-Dame of Paris”. With this original title do you wish to emphasise the historical Notre-Dame or rather the human drama staged in the Notre-Dame?”


“As told in Book 3 Chapter 1 the Notre-Dame had been growing old due to the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men both caused. Time had had notched its surface here and there, and gnawed it everywhere; political and religious revolution had torn its rich garment, carving and sculpture, burst its rose windows, broken its necklace of arabesques and tiny figures, torn out its statues.
Then the restoration efforts made it even more grotesque and foolish.  The restoration had adjusted, in the name of "good taste," upon the wounds of gothic architecture, their miserable gewgaws of a day, their ribbons of marble, their pompons of metal, a veritable leprosy of egg-shaped ornaments, volutes, whorls, draperies, garlands, fringes, stone flames, bronze clouds, pudgy cupids, chubby- cheeked cherubim.

But the Notre-Dame is also the home of Quasimodo, the ugly Hunchback-man with a heart of gold, as well as home of Claude Frollo, the solemn priest turned to evil, who adopted Quasimodo abandoned as a child on a bed in the Notre Dame. And Esmeralda took refuge in Notre-Dame for a while hiding from the royal soldiers. It was also the stage where Esmeralda, Frollo and Jehan fell to their tragic death“.

I said:
“The sufferings of Quasimodo, the Hunchback-man in this novel, seem to be so  gross beyond human. As a child he was abandoned because of his ugliness, his body deformed, has only one eye, his head placed directly on his shoulders, his spinal column was crooked, his breast bone prominent, and his legs bowed.
The ladies who saw the child in the bed of Nortre-Dame were so horrified that one of them asked: “What is this, sister?", and the other lady said: “"What is to become of us, if that is the way children are made now?" and then the other: “it must be a sin to look at this one."

“He then also lost his hearing being the bellringer of the Notre-Dame, the bells had broken the drums of his ears, he had become deaf.
But such sufferings are not comparable with the suffering of Stephen Hawking. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, when he was 22 and was not expected to live for more than a few years.  The disease causes weakness of either upper motor neurons or lower motor neurons or both. He could not walk, move and bound to a wheelchair, he also could not write and speak. He started using a menu controlled by a computer system to communicate. “

I said:
“But people respect and adore Stephen Hawking for his intelligence, for his his life spent seeking to unlock the mysteries of the universe through physics. I can imagine it was very aggravating for him to have a disease that constraint his movement in pursuit of the “theory of everything”.
On Quasimodo’s case it is different, people make fool of him all the time, he was even crowned the Pope of Fools during the Festival of Fools. “

“The hardest part must be the feeling of being ugly in front of Esmeralda, to be watch by the woman whom he adored and loved so much… In Book 9 Chapter 2 he said to Esmeralda: “I frighten you. I am very ugly, am I not? Do not look at me; only listen to me.”

I said:
“ Yes, it is such a heart wrenching scene, to be uncomfortable on front of the woman he loved  so much that he risked his life saving her from execution, and brought her to the sanctuary of the Notre-Dame as an escape. “

“More than that, in Book 9 Chapter 4 it tells us: “Once Quasimodo came at the moment when Esmeralda  was caressing Djali, her pet goat. He stood pensively for several minutes before this graceful group of the goat and the gypsy; at last he said, shaking his heavy and ill-formed head,--"My misfortune is that I still resemble a man too much. I should like to be wholly a beast like that goat."  She gazed at him in amazement.”

Hearing that, I was speechless fo a moment… then as if to console Quasimodo of his unfortunate fate I said:
“I cannot forget the scene in Book 8 Chapter 6, when Quasimodo saved Esmeralda from execution, rush to the two executioners with the swiftness of a cat which has fallen from a roof, knock them down with two enormous fists, pick up Esmeralda with one hand, as a child would her doll, and dash back into the Notre-Dame with a single bound, lifting the young girl above his head and crying in a formidable voice,-- "Sanctuary!"
And then, "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" repeated the crowd; and the clapping of ten thousand hands made Quasimodo's single eye sparkle with joy and pride.”

“Yes the medieval law dictated that Notre Dame was a place of refuge from the law. Esmerelda could not be harmed by the executioners as long as she stayed inside the walls of Notre-Dame.”

I said:
“But Notre-Dame is also the home and sanctuary of Claude Frollo the solemn priest turned into evil. This man, at first was the angel that adopted Quasimodo despite his deformed, ugly look, for the love of his blood brother little Jehan.”

“And the Book 4 also tells us:” Claude's compassion increased at the sight of this ugliness; and he made a vow in his heart to rear the child for the love of his brother, in order that, whatever might be the future faults of the little Jehan, he should have beside him that charity done for his sake.
When a little lad, it was between Claude Frollo's legs that Quasimodo was accustomed to seek refuge, when the dogs and the children barked after him. Claude Frollo  aslo had taught him to talk, to read, to write. We will say then, that out of gratitude Quasimodo loved the priest as never a dog, never a horse, never an elephant loved his master.”

I said:
“Then how on earth this compansionate priest, this angel, became an evil sorcerer?”

“ From the cloister, his reputation as a learned man had passed to the people. He studied medicine, astrology and hermetics. His latest obsession was alchemist as he wanted to develop gold from stone. During the Middle Ages we ought to mention however, that the sciences of Egypt, that necromancy and magic, even the whitest, even the most innocent, had been considered as the act of sorcery.”

I said:
“But this angel really turned into evil, after he fell deeply in love with Esmeralda, or rather after he was trapped in lust to Esmeralda.”

“In his mind Claude Frollo believed that Esmeralda’s destiny is faith, in Book 7 Chapter 5 it tells us how Claude Frollo said in a voice which seemed to proceed from the depths of his being, "behold here a symbol of all. She flies, she is joyous, she is just born; she seeks the spring, the open air, liberty: oh, yes! but let her come in contact with the fatal network, and the spider issues from it, the hideous spider! Poor dancer! poor, predestined fly! Let things take their course, Master Jacques, 'tis fate! Alas! Claude, thou art the spider!”

I said:
“I can see that in this chapter Claude Frollo spoke about how the fly reaches to open air, the full daylight, but did not see the window glass which opens  to the other world. The fly does not have the sense to understand the trapping of the spider’s web in front of the window and flies head-on into the spider’s web. The fly struggles with head broken and mangled wings in the web. Such is the fate of the fly.”

"Further he said: “And even couldst thou have broken through that formidable web, with thy gnat's wings, thou believest that thou couldst have reached the light? Alas! that pane of glass which is further on, that transparent obstacle, that wall of crystal, harder than brass, which separates all philosophies from the truth, how wouldst thou have overcome it? Oh, vanity of science! how many wise men come flying from afar, to dash their heads against thee! How many systems vainly fling themselves buzzing against that eternal pane!"

I said:
“ It is like what happened to Esmeralda, she escaped execution as Quasimodo released and saved her, brought her to the sanctuary of the Notre-Dame.  Also, when the vagabonds raided the Notre-Dame, she was rescued by Pierre Gringoire, “her husband on paper”, but actually she trapped and caught again by Frollo.  Sister Gudule, her real mother, tried to free La Esmerelda from Frollo's trap, but the attempt failed as Esmeralda suddenly noticed Phoebus, the man she loved, in the troop and she shouted his name calling to rescue her. This gave away her hiding place and the royal  soldiers caught her. Then her fate was sealed.”

“Like the way Dante describes Beatrice as the “Beauty in white robes”, that is how beautiful Esmeralda died, in white robes. She died because of her own act of love, although unrecruited, rather it was an infatuation with Phoebus. They only met a few times, like Dante and Beatrice, only a few times. But Phoebus didn’t love Esmeralda, he just wanted to sleep her.  He did not hear Esmeralda calling his name for help from her hiding place, that let to her capture and death, in white robes.”

I said:
“You know, Stephen Hawking whom spent his life in pursuit of the “theory of everything”, once said  when asked what he  thinks most about during the day: "Women. They are a complete mystery."

This is an imaginary interview in memory of Victor Hugo.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Strasbourg, the city of Europe

Strasbourg as the capital of Europe, is rather small and peaceful city, not as big and busy as Paris or Milan.  It seems that Strasbourg is very sweet and easy , compared with Paris.

Strasbourg is located close to the border between France and Germany in the historic region of Alsace. The name Strasbourg is of Germanic origin which means "Town (at the crossing) of roads”. It is a symbol of French-German reconciliation and European unity.

It is the official seat of the European Parliament, alongside Brussels and Luxembourg. Strasbourg is considered to be the capital of Europe due to the presence of several European Union and other institutions in the city.

In the historical centre of Strasbourg stands the Notre-Dame cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic art, owes much of its charm to the pink  sandstone used for its construction. Although some of its parts are still in Romanesque architecture, the Notre-Dame Strasbourg Cathedral  is widely considered to be among the finest  Gothic architecture. Erwin von Steinbach is credited for major contributions to the cathedral  architecture from 1277 to his death in 1318.

 Its rose window, which is about 15 meters in diameter, is  one of the biggest Gothic rose windows in Europe. It's very beautiful and majestic, especially when seen from the inside of the cathedral as it gives off a coloured light.

Strasbourg is also called The Capital of Christmas as the Christmas markets here are world famous, decorated with a huge Christmas tree in the town square. The first markets were held in 1570, making them one of the oldest in Europe and the very first in France.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Paris, at Montmartre

As a foreigner you can only guess what Montmartre means, it is easy to guess that “Mont” means “Mount” as the place is a large hill in Paris. But “martre” may sound a little like “mother”, so you think maybe it means Mary , the mother of Jesus. This association might arised after you visited the Notre-Dame, which means “Our Lady”.  So Montmatre maybe means the Mount of Mother, you think.

An Indonesian might think “martre” means “matre” which means materialistic. But people would not name a place like this a “Materialistic Mount”, so it is not possible to mean like that. Montmartre was once the place where artists, writers and bohemians who lived, worked and gathered in cafes and bars, while they were poor. Its low rents lured struggling artists whose canvases now sell for millions, such as Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Utrillo.  So if we consider this, Montmartre should sound more like an “Artistic Mount” rather than “Materialistic Mount”, don’t you think so?

Actually rather than making some hazard guesses it is easier to open a dictionary , Montmartre is the French word for the “Mount of Martyrs”, as the name is related to the 3rd century bishop of Paris. Bishop Denis was apprehended by the Romans and sentenced to death for teaching Christianity. There are various versions of the bishop’s martyrdom. One legend states that he was beheaded on the hill, after which the body picked up the head and carried it to the Parisian Saint Denis suburb. The bust of the decapitated bishop is located atop the hill of Montmartre.

Nowadays, a popular landmark in Montmartre, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located at the summit of the hill, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur means Sacred Heart as it is  dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ. The basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was consecrated in 1919.

Montmartre was once  towered with 30 windmills, used to press grapes and mill  grain. Nowadays one of these windmills still stand, the famous  "Red Windmill" — the Moulin Rouge cabaret theatre.  When it opened in 1889, the lively nightclub seemed to sum up the pleasure-seeking belle époque, a period of high artistic or cultural development.

Unmissable as you wander Montmartre for the spinning red windmill on its roof, the Moulin Rouge is an unforgettable mix of colour, movement and sound. The cabaret show performed by young girls dancing the sexy Can Can, was a magnet for all Parisians. The show featuring beautiful topless dancers, has become world famous.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Paris, at the Notre-Dame

In the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, a deformed ugly looking child was abandoned at the Notre-Dame Cathedral. The baby was named Quasimodo by Archdeacon Claude Frollo who adopted him.  This scene reminds me of a scene from the movie Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, showing an unwanted baby abandoned at the ruined Rashomon Gate. The baby then was adopted by the Woodcutter (read “An Interview with Akira” in this blogspot). 

In the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo wrote largely about Notre-Dame to make the people of Paris become more aware of the value of the Gothic architecture, which was neglected and often destroyed to be replaced by new buildings or defaced by replacement of parts in a newer style. The first three chapters of the novel are a plea to preserve Gothic architecture—in Hugo’s words, a “gigantic book of stone,” which he found beautiful.

After centuries of mistreatment, additions, vandalism, and purgings, the visitors find a beautiful cathedral that was not as it is today.  Victor Hugo was able to bring about the salvation of a magnificent church because he was able to capture the lost beauty of this church with his novel. 

Now the cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and best-known church buildings in France, and in the world. The naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass serve to contrast it with earlier Romanesque architecture.

However, currently the cathedral has required an extensive makeover once again due to deterioration, broken gargoyles and fallen balustrades replaced by plastic pipes and wooden planks. Flying buttresses darkened by pollution and eroded by rainwater. Pinnacles propped up by beams and held together with straps.

Little of that deterioration is immediately visible to the millions of awe-struck tourists who visit the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, many of them too busy admiring the intricately sculpted front to notice the deterioration.

Everywhere the stone is eroded, and the more the wind blows, the more all of these little pieces keep falling. Experts say Notre-Dame, although not at risk of sudden collapse, has reached a tipping point, therefore it needs a make-over, an expensive make over estimated to cost 150 million Euro.

As Victor Hugo wrote in his novel, the words ring true today 150 years later: “Assuredly, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Paris is, to this day, a majestic and sublime edifice, but noble as it has remained while growing old, one cannot but regret, cannot but feel indignant at the innumerable degradations and mutilations inflicted on the venerable pile, both by the action of time and the hand of man.”