Schweitzer soirée

5 FEB 2017

The three performers enter into the Grand Salon where our audience of about sixty people sits. I am one among those applauding. The two actors, a lady and an older man, and a cellist are dressed all in black. The type of chic black reserved for those of the theatre if one can imagine such a thing. Tonight is a special night for the château. Tonight, Albert Schweitzer’s love letters to who would become his wife are read, performed. We finish our introductory applause and let the performers take their seats.

The cellist makes a final adjustment to her strings, and then begins to play. She plays a short tune and then stops. Right away the man stands and begins to read the lines of the first letter. Albert Schweitzer and his love were both near or from Alsace, so the letters are written and read in a mix of German and French. Which is great for the audience which presumably speaks both languages. I am one of the only ones here who has come simply to enjoy a performance even though, once again, I have no idea what they’re actually saying.

I take this opportunity to really get a good look at the Grand Salon. The large room is lit by five chandeliers and two candelabras on the hearth. The floor is made up of interlacing wooden tiles. During the day, sunlight gives the walls a pastel blue-gray appearance, but at night, as it is now, the walls are a soft white. All along the walls are swirls of golden leaves and gold trim. The candles make the golden accents glow. The wooden panels and mirrors are outlined in gold, the footing and the ceiling trim are as well lined in these spirals of golden laurels. At the north end of the room there is a half-cupola-domed bay window, under which resides a black concert piano. In the half-dome are carved flowers, like daisies, larger toward the outside and they get smaller toward the center, painted in the same pastel blue-gray-soft-white with a bit of gold for the central florets.

This room seems plucked from Fontainebleau or even Versailles. Six paintings call this place home. There are two on the west wall. One seems quite old, the other was painted in 2008. The old one is a landscape, a bay with mountains and cliffs, trees and partly cloudy blue sky. The newer one is a painting of an art museum hall. If I had to guess, I would say the Louvre. On the east wall, the other four paintings reside. These are a single collection, each about three feet wide and six feet tall. Each one bears a woman standing on a cloud against a vibrantly blue sky. Each woman represents a season. From left to right, I would venture winter, autumn, summer, and spring. While I cannot find a date, they seem new like the museum painting.

The women of the seasons set the backdrop for the performers’ stage (not really a stage, but all the same, “stage” is a better word than “area”). Between autumn and summer is the gray marble fireplace, carved with leaves and flower buds its own. In it, a grate holds a cast iron pot. On the face of the hearth is carved a bearded man in profile wearing a laurel wreath. It reminds me of an ancient philosopher. On the hearth sits a glass enshrined golden clock. “Ornate” is not sufficient, I think, for how to describe the detail of this particular piece of craftsmanship. Four legs support the main platform which itself is draped in leaves and berries. A smaller platform rest just above the first. On it, to the left, appears to be a set of bagpipes covered in a variety of cut flowers and a tambourine. On the right, there is a large tankard. In the center, there is a large wooden cask set on its side, its top houses the clock face, and on top sit a merry man playing the viola. His fashion seems 1700s splendor. All, all of it in bright, crisp, shiny yellow gold. At the top of the hour, it strikes its tiny bell.

The performance takes a turn from the usual routine when both letter readers put down their letter portfolios, stand, come together, and dance a simple waltz. I imagine this is not very different to how lords and ladies or old were entertained: in grand rooms with committed artists, surrounded by friends and strangers, expectant of the wine sure to follow. After about thirty more minutes of a well-done performance, we clapped, and the performers took their bows and left out into the entry hall. The Leibrechts thanked the audience and told us about the wine, which was sure to follow.

We flow like a steady stream through the entry hall into Salon Rouge to meet again with the artists, this time in a less formal setting. A long table with white table cloth with set against the west wall bearing empty glasses meant for guests. I had agreed earlier to help with this evening’s festivities in exchange for a free ticket to the performance, so now my task is at hand. Alongside a few of the students from Humber College, who are also staying that the château, and the wine producer, I help serve glasses of crémant, gewurztraminer, riesling, and pinot gris. The wines and the crémant all come from a local Alsatian winery. The crémant, I am told, is an exceptionally good one, perhaps the very best of the Alsace region. For the wines, the gewurztraminer is the night’s biggest hit. Guests stay until nearly all of the wine and all of the pretzels are gone.

After about another hour and a half, the guests are all leaving. The performers are some of the last to depart. I wish I could have spoken more with them and some of the other guests, but alas, I am not yet proficient in French. My loss indeed, but I am still happy for having been a part of it all. We put away the chairs, sweep the floors, wipe the tables, and throw away the trash. Our little crew is awarded a delivery pizza dinner. It may not sound like much, but let me say here and now, that was some of the best pizza I have ever had. It is the little things after all that make these kinds of nights all the more memorable.

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