On Saturday, we climbed into my brother’s Fiat and zipped 50 miles up the Seine to the Moulin d’Ande, a 12th-century mill tucked away in a small forest. The property was owned by auto magnate Louis Renault in the early 20th century; he developed it into a charming country retreat. Now it is owned by Countess Suzanne Lipinska who, in addition to her royal lineage, was an assistant to FranÃ§ois Truffaut in his masterpiece Les quatre cents coups. She has turned the property into an artists colony specializing in chamber music and screenwriting.
Whimsical sculptures punctuate the grounds, which overlook a peaceful river valley. Locations for famous scenes from Jules et Jim are still recognizable, so that you almost expect to spot Jeanne Moreau strolling across the lawn. The cottage-style rooms are named for alcohols — my wife and I stayed in the Absinthe. Upon arrival, one immediately feels a release of all the built-up energy of the city, for which the only appropriate response is to pass out on one of the comfortable beds for a midday nap.
After a brief but refreshing coma, we assembled on the lawn for cocktails, then moved indoors for a recital of German lieder that was actually pretty atrocious — the soprano was just okay but the poor pianist was overmatched and had a bit of a meltdown. It was a tortuous ninety minutes, but then we convened at 10 pm for a splendid supper. I sat at a table with a string quartet that had come up from Paris for a weekend of intense rehearsal. They took the vocal recital as a personal affront, repeatedly exclaiming in horror at the poor preparation. It turned out one of them had lived in NYC at the same time as I had, and another lived in San Francisco for a number of years, so we had quite a bit to chat about. I asked them about contemporary French music outside of the Boulez circle, and they gave me a list of younger French composers I should get to know. The wine flowed freely, and we had friendly arguments about all kinds of musical topics into the wee hours.
Many people believe that music is a universal language, but those of us here at S21 are wiser — we know that sometimes music can be an intensely divisive subject. Nonetheless, in the midst of all of our intercontinental disagreements and misunderstandings, I learned that there is one topic guaranteed to resolve any social discord.
We can all tell good viola jokes.