Friday, May 22, 2009
Demolition of the Cathedral at Chartres
One of the least risky things I did with my friends as a teenager in southeast Missouri was watch Saturday Night Live, and one of the ritual pleasures was the coneheads' robot-voiced declaration "we are from France." My friends and I felt so ironic and sophisticated because, you see, we got it. They were, like, ALIENS and they were just PRETENDING to be from France, because France is a far-away place that people never really get to.
When I was in graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park, I used to host a tea and poetry reading every winter, and when we got to the point where all we were reading was the silly poetry, we'd read one or two selections from Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes. One of my favorites was "Demolition of the Cathedral at Chartres" read in a robot-like monotone:
Mr. Rivers was raised in the city of New York, had become involved in construction and slowly advanced himself to the level of crane operator for a demolition company. The firm had grown enormously, and he was shipped off to France for a special job. He started work early on a Friday and, due to a poorly drawn map, at six-thirty one morning in February, began the demolition of the Cathedral at Chartres.
The first swing of the ball knifed an arc so deadly that it tore down nearly a third of a wall and the glass shattered almost in tones, and it seemed to scream over the noise of the engine as the fuel was pumped in the long neck of the crane that threw the ball through a window of the Cathedral of Chartres.
The aftermath was complex and chaotic, and Rivers was allowed to go home to New York, and he opened up books on the Cathedral and read about it and thought to himself how lucky he was to have seen it before it was destroyed.
Like all graduate students, we were full of self-importance and fell over ourselves laughing at the clueless tone of this piece.
Now, at long last, I'm planning a trip to France. I'm going to boldly go where few other southeast Missourians have gone before. I'm really going to see the Cathedral at Chartres, at least if nothing happens to it before I get there. I'm going to ask another tourist to take the ritual picture of me in front of the Eiffel Tower, so I can send it to my cousin who sent me one just like it in last year's Christmas card. I'm poring over guidebooks to Paris and Nice, and looking for suggestions of things I shouldn't miss when I'm there from armchair or--if there really are any--actual travelers.