Video

Nice: Ecstatic Places

I.
If I remember correctly, the first five minutes or so of François Truffaut’s film L’argent de poche (¨pocket money¨) follows crowds of schoolchildren descending staircases across the town of Thiers, France. The waves of children seem endless; the stairs seem endless. It’s an ebullient, hopeful expression of our perpetual passage from each moment to the next, tempered just a touch by an adult’s sober recognition, or dread, of the inevitable.
In France, it’s also a sight as common as spare change. Every weekday afternoon, the late afternoon bells ring and children emerge out of doors and stream down staircases, spilling onto the sidewalks and streets that were empty just a few minutes before.
The noise (le bruit) emanating from these schools before or after each bell is extraordinary. All of a sudden the neighborhood lights up, burns, and burns until the noise extinguishes itself. It reminds me of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, where thousands of blackbirds pack into trees and simultaneously call to one another, with overwhelming pitch and confusion, for a more or less precise period of time every evening.
The children all seem to be yelling; the only message to be taken is some urgent need for action, although sometimes, especially in the mornings, one voice will rise above the others: ¨Maman! Maman! Maman! Maman! Maman!¨  
 
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II.
A special church can be found in a typical neighborhood of Nice: L’Eglise Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc, a church where even the non-religious visitor can experience a spiritual moment.
Its unusual architecture strikes the passerby from afar.

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Passing from the sunlight to the candlelit interior, the visitor is drawn into a space both modest and grandiose, marked by a spare richness: two rustic organs, hand-carved wooden chairs, rounded stucco walls that sweep to the sky, punctuated at the ceiling’s mid-height by simple stained glass.
Prominent on the right side of the church is a painted sculpture of Jeanne d’Arc. Her face stuns. A paradoxical clear blend of emotions live within it, notably sadness (mourning) countered by hope, and modesty countered by courage.
Stepping back outside the visitor feels the depth of the church’s darkness and the depth of the sunlight; it is like having been washed with ancient water in shadow and then being released to the bright world to dry.
 
III.

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You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,
We must have a turn together. I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.
 
Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself (22)