The darkness. I just typed the phrase with clumsy thumbs and my keyboard’s brain came up with ‘Ted’s armless’ which rings with some associations I’m writing towards.
The darkness below, the darkness before me and the darkness behind are all peopled spaces, no surprises really since we seem to so readily imagine crowds of the dead rising and walking among us. Perhaps that’s why the Roman epitaph commonly contained a wish, may your limbs now enjoy their well earned rest.
Yesterday evening Barbara and I were in the audience of a performance at the School of Fine Arts, it was a small venue called the hangar, and the lights were trained on the audience, the stage in darkness. Lights went out and applause began from somewhere rising and slowly petering out, then a single piano note and another round of applause. I began to expect a seat squirming repetition when a young man appeared standing before a row of footlights and very beautifully began to sing Schubert’s Gute Nacht accompanied by a female pianist. He sang entirely facing into darkness his back to us. First thoughts ran to tricky but for the seriousness of the baritone effort and the absorbed concentration of the pianist visible in profile at the piano. The song ended, and with a silent pause another song this time in high soprano a Handel aria but with more gestural movements. The performer finished and bowed to his applauding audience which judging from the sound was in a huge auditorium.
Later the formats changed as did the styles of delivery but the same deep restraint in relation to the actual audience, an unexpected high quality of delivery and the continued baffling acoustic projection of some gargantuan space. It became evident that the recital itself was subordinate to the performer’s conjuring act, imagining an audience in the darkness. We the unattended audience were freed from the wellworn relationship to the performer as well as to the space, there was a cinematic quality in which the darkness became formed into an otherness and we were privy to a deeper process, the performer building his performance upon a crowd created by his own need.
The next darkness could be considered ahead or receding depending on your cultural orientation, walking backwards into the past, or walking out of it.
There’s an old cobblestone street near the school of fine arts which goes from the Rhône to the Saône quaysides, it’s called Rue Sargent Blandan. He was a soldier in the Algerian war and his statue replaces Jacquard’s in the square through which the road passes, the first Jacquard loom was set up in a workshop here. The ancient name is the Way of the Rhine (Rhône?), it being the lowest part of the long winding old cart track that now runs in breaks down from the Croix-Rousse Plateau. The area is inhabited by an art community with diverse practices from applied arts to insurrection style acts, someone’s recently pasted a sign ‘Procrastination street’ at one end of the road.
The age in the stones of a road is hard to fathom, the narratives attached, often banal become our best way in, and it is often in the gap between the material facts and the living energies that we’re held.
Earlier yesterday we visited the Centre for the History of the Resistance and of Deportation which is housed in a 19th century military hospital that became headquarters to the Gestapo for two years from 1942, it’s current status is owed to the 1987 trial of Klaus Barbie in Lyon and the unearthed evidence of local witnesses.
The Occupation of Lyon was particularly heavy producing conflicted responses within the city. Large numbers of skilled Lyon workers were sent to jobs in Germany in return for the release of French soldiers, three for one. Worker’s strikes led to retaliation and a network of resistance formed. The main narrative of the centre stems from this.
There is a silent worshipful atmosphere in the account of the mass persecutions, one reference to a silence that lingers with me was in a video interview with a survivor of the German camps who, on his return to his family’s apartment in Lyon, just off the Rue Sargent Blandan, with all his family dead, took up his life there telling no one where he had been.
The darkness below. We live at 20 Rue Bodin on the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse. Number 20 is a building that’s on a street corner with several entrances, ours being on the Montée St Sébastien, a very steep street. The Rises were old walking paths and stairs, this one is segmented by a short set of steps making it a cul de sac for vehicles.
When trying to locate this apartment, I asked Google maps to show a street view, we’d seen photographs of the interior with an opened window leading the eye across a set of steps to a park. The Google walking man wasn’t showing this view at 20 Rue Bodin, so noticing a corner I bumped him to it, a tradesman’s van blocked the Rise and when bumped over the van, instead of a leafy street, I’m being shown a darkness – the specific darkness of a tunnel judging by the curving brickwork.
La Croix-Rousse tunnel was opened in1951 taking traffic from the Rhône to the Saône, it runs 60 metres below, or 385 steps which is how I measured it. the scene from the Google van of the vertically dropped coordinates of number 20 is somewhere in that tunnel.
If you could do the tunnel crossing from here, which you can’t at the moment due to reconstruction works, you’d end up at the Saône on the Quay Pierre Scize, next to the School of Fine Arts and the place where a chain ran across five hulls each evening drawn into the river’s strong currents to stop contraband and piracy after dark.