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Dear Ravel,

I am starting a journey to find you. In your music. In the notes on the manuscript. In the house where you lived. In the ground where you are buried. In this map.

I visit Paris in January and have planned a route around the places that are your coordinates. Places of interest that have a connection to you and your biography. I wondered when I typed the locations into Google maps whether it would present some kind of composition, something musical, a quaver or a treble clef. But at the moment, it is not that clear how these locations are part of the story.

At this stage, I feel more like a detective, piecing together the evidence you left behind, eliminating things from my enquiries. No crimes have been committed, but I am interested in why you wrote Bolero when you wrote it and where you wrote it and how you wrote it. As someone who puts words together on a page, like this, there is a curiosity about how other writers work in other mediums, how you would mark the manuscript and if you heard the music as you wrote it.

I am drawn to the story of the car accident that led indirectly to your death and how scientists have traced signs of early dementia in the rhythm of Bolero. And I wondered if you were aware of any of this, of the connection between the crash and the sounds you were hearing or writing after the incident. Did you notice the music change? Did the way you wrote feel different? Did it feel not quite right? Did you think as you crossed that road that this was the beginning of the end?

I want to find that spot in Paris, where a taxi didn’t stop in time, and mark it somehow. Mark the moment where everything changed without you knowing. I arrive at your grave on Sunday 8 January, a week after the anniversary of your death, and I wonder if it might be the anniversary of your interment at Levallois Perret. You were an atheist so there would have been no religious ceremony and the New Year might have slowed down the bureaucracy surrounding your burial.

In a quiet way, I will remember you. On my journey, I will listen to your music and imagine it is the way it sounded when you first heard it. At the Paris Opera on the premiere in 1928, before the car crash, and before your work slowed down because of the headaches, the dizziness, the nausea. I will visit where you wrote at Monfort-L’Amaury, and sit in your chair and reflect on that time. A time when perhaps anything seemed possible. The guided tour is in French so I am hoping the space will speak to me as much as the tour guide. And on my final day in Paris, I will visit the Paris Opera. I will sit in the auditorium for fifteen minutes. Imagining the first night and how it must have felt to hear the music for the first time. Fifteen minutes of a composition you described as ‘having no music in it’.

Yours sincerely,

Michael

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