Experiencing Sacré-Cœur

Sacré-Cœur, 2016, ink and acrylic on paper, 35″ x 32″

by Kira Milligan

I shove my hands deeper into my jacket pockets and tense my shoulders enough for my scarf to catch any warm air I exhale. The thick, deep blue that settles into side streets makes me squint to find my way, typical of this morning hour. 6 AM, October 11, 2016. My pace quickens after the momentary glance at my phone. Cobblestone paths and intersecting larger streets are unexpectedly quiet and serene, with only the whispers of flyers and wrappers as a subtle wind herds them into corners. A couple of side streets lead uphill, landing me at the bottom of a staircase whose ascent is shrouded in fog. I wind up and around, stair after stair. Out of breath, I pause and look around: apartment complexes rise on either side of this mysterious staircase, seeming to cheer me on in my quest, while simultaneously making me question if I will find my way out or continue climbing stairs until the sun rises. Numb fingers, sore legs, and new shoes (not yet broken-in) peeling the skin off of my heels: another set of stairs, then a smaller set, dim light faintly illuminating the edge of an apartment building, rounding the corner and- ! All of the sudden my breath catches in my throat.

Sacré-Cœur!

Her glowing warm mass rises high into the indigo morning, swathed in fog like a mosquito net draped around her dome. Any pains of the journey here fall away entirely, as I stand lock-kneed and gaping, allowing a spontaneous spurt of laughter to escape echoing down the empty street encircling the basilica. I reach for my phone, desperate to capture any evidence that might help me to remember all the subtle beauty of this moment. Stepping backwards, I arch my back and lean to capture this treasure with a tap of my thumb. She extends far beyond the borders of my pathetic screen, unfolding in every direction and dimension. Fine details collide with magnificent forms. My eyes adjust to the contrast of the bleached building against the morning dark, following the lines of the building as they looped and scribbled from one portion to the next, which would be echoed in my later articulation of Sacré-Cœur.

I reflected on how this visit was conceived only at the excited urging of my mom via Skype, and that I had not researched or looked up anything about the basilica before arriving. This combined with the fact that I was coming alone on the morning of my 22nd birthday made for an experience that was intimately personal, yet simultaneously shrouded in mystery as thick as the fog that enveloped it. 

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