Oh, if you had been in town, I would have treated you, treated the lot of you to “Mirong, le sourire de la perfection,” a Korean dance production of such beauty and scope you might have forgotten, for an hour, the calamities of the Istanbul Airport, Nice, the Turkish coup, the killings in America. Forgotten is certainly the wrong word. But somewhere in your mind you have an idea of how consolation, never enough but all we have, tries failingly but bravely to balance itself against sorrow and loss.
The performance traces a forbidden romance over forty years. It contrasts two entirely different dance genres—a very formal, graceful, courtly, restrained, hypnotic, noble dance versus a gipsy, energetic, bawdy, unrestrained, percussive, sexually combative style. How one form bleeds into the other, how their themes blend with tragic results, and how the lovers, if only at the final moments of life, achieve the ‘perfection,’ unspoken and unresolved as it is, are all heartbreaking. Yes, I would have treated you.
(I should note that this performance, and the richly funny Le Malade Imaginaire I saw the day before—and grasped maybe 30% of the script, so I’ve already had it from Kindle, and read it, too—are but two productions of the annual Avignon Festival. The field guide to the festival runs 360 pages; you could go to performances every morning, noon, and night all month and not see a tenth of the works worth seeing. Eat your heart out, Edinburgh.)
Maybe, after the Mirong performance, you might have tagged along for a visit to the Papal Palace, the most ponderous case of “I’m taking my bat and going home” in world history. That is, once a French pope popped in, The Great Schism opened and resulted in pitting the Italians against the French for a couple of hundred years. Up rose the French and moved their version of the papacy to Avignon. The palace grew to sport an “old” and a “new” palace: 1316-34; 1335-42; 1342-52.
You’ll note that this building frenzy predates the St. Peter’s we now associate with the central icon of Catholicism by almost 300 years. Visiting the two papal palaces, then, provides two very different experiences. The Avignon palace is essentially empty. It didn’t fare well during the French Revolution when much of the architectural decoration was smashed. That the palace also served as a military barracks during the 19th century probably didn’t improve matters very much.
Happily, for me, the very paucity of sensation allows for better concentration than the awestruck dumbfoundedness that trails after you in St Peter’s like an annoyingly loyal dog with Baroque tastes. Here, for example, is some evidence of real personality in, as usual, the artisans who express their own worlds and lives under the guise of designing the house of God.
And here is a bit of anthology of walking the streets and imbibing the atmosphere inside the walls of Avignon’s old city. And yes, you can climb to the very top to look out over the Rhone. And you can also climb down, repair to my namesake’s church in Saint Pierre’s Place and its most comfortable crepe cafes and watch the young couples who appear to be making good on love’s perfections.