Our first Paris office was located just behind the notorious church of Saint Sulpice. After laboriously commuting between recording projects in London and the continent for several years, we finally decided to bite the bullet and go for a permanent base in Paris, partly because it was logistically easier to access recording studios all over Europe from there but, more importantly, because of the food.
I guess this must have been around 1993, which I vaguely recall through my absolutely fabulous music biz haze, because this was the same year that Apple launched its groundbreaking Newton "MessagePad" handheld computer, cunningly named after the Isaac Newton "Apple" pun.
We were digital pioneers, afterall. We'd had the first mobile phone (can you possibly imagine life before mobile phones existed?) in London, the first digital multitrack audio recorder in Europe, and we were on the internet at the time when urban myths were still circulating that the Net was developed from government mind control experiment software.
The acquisition of my first Newton enabled me to ditch my trendy, but cumbersome, black snakeskin Filofax. However, although the Newt could keep track of my diary and address book with ease, its innovative handwriting recognition software was, in practical terms, pretty crap.
Granted, the new technology was a gallant effort but, after rendering a file of notes on a high-profile recording project in Florida as No Penguins in Florence, our engineers began to suspect that I was slowly losing the plot as I inevitably began to incorporate Newton-speak into our project planning schedules.
At first we couldn't afford a proper office in Paris, so we rented a tiny medieval-beamed poet's garret buried within the labyrinthine permutations of the Left Bank.
So, even if our clients could manage to successfully locate us, the garret was far too miniscule to conduct proper meetings in anyway, therefore I used to meet various pop stars at the nearest conspicuous landmark, which was the church of Saint Sulpice de Paris. Once there, I would give them a quick tour of the Gnomon, then we'd stroll down the Rue Mabillon, past Rue Lobineau, for lunch at Aux Charpentiers, an excellent bistro on the alleged former site of the medieval carpenters guild, which also had a small masonic museum attached to it for some obscure reason.
If the meeting was scheduled for later in the day, we would skip Charpentiers and toodle down to the bohemian Boulevard Saint Germain via the Place d'Acadie, then carry on through the church of Saint Germain des Pres to the Deux Magots, who served the best Pimm's Royale in Paris.
At the time I had absolutely no idea that someday people would actually charge money to give tours of Saint Sulpice's Gnomon. Furthermore, I had no knowledge of the mythical relationship between the churches of Saint Sulpice and Saint Germain, or even who Lobineau was. Life was blissfully simple back then.
Ironically, I had actually discovered Saint Sulpice's Gnomon completely by accident during my very first neighborhood reconnaissance mission, after moving into the garret.
Entering the church, I paused to bless myself with holy water contained in stoups fashioned from the most gigantic natural clam shells I had ever seen. Then, traveling from west to east, I was astonished to find that the first chapel I came to was covered in murals painted by Delacroix.
Exploring further, I eventually came to a curious marble slab set into the floor of the south transept, inscribed to denote the Summer Solstice, of all things. The slab was connected to another inscribed plate in front of the altar by a copper strip set into the floor, which traversed the entire length of the transept from south to north, terminating at an Egyptian-style obelisk in the transept’s northern arm.
I stood on the plaque in front of the altar, intrigued, looking from the south to the north, and from east to west, finally spinning in all directions, in an attempt to discover the purpose of this perplexing construction. I didn't understand until much later what the significance of my instinctive movements were and how they inevitably triggered the sequence of events which were to transpire years later.
Observing my confusion, a priest emerged from the shadows and explained to me that the Gnomon was broken. "The what?"
The Gnomon was a solar meridiana, a kind of architectural sundial. It was commissioned by the curé of Saint Sulpice in 1727 to facilitate the precise calculation of Easter, which occurred on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, as marked by the plaque on which I was standing. These meridiana devices were more common in Italian churches, but relatively rare in France. Because of this, Saint Sulpice was spared from the ravages of the Revolution because the Gnomon was considered to be a scientific instrument. Although, the dedication to Louis XV’s senior ministers didn't fare as well, the priest pointed to the obliterated inscriptions on the obelisk.
As the solar year progressed a sunbeam was focused by a lens in the south transept window, its movement tracked across the church by the aforementioned copper thread and punctuated by the plaques referencing the alignment of the sun on the solstices and equinoxes. In some churches the position of the pole star in the north was also marked, to delineate both alignment points of the solar meridian - the priest indicated the stained glass windows on either side of the transept, which were symbolically designated "P" and "S", for Polaire (Polaris) in the north and Soleil (Sun) in the south, respectively.
However the lens was now broken, rendering the heliometer defunct, although the Friends of Saint Sulpice were trying to raise the funds to have the entire installation repaired. This explained the random blobs of refracted light splayed across the walls of the transept.
I listened to the priest with fascination until he excused himself in order to carry out far more important sacerdotal duties, such as the lighting of candles and the blessing of more holy water, in an ongoing attempt to save our souls.
But it didn't matter to me that the Gnomon was broken. I was in Paris, striding a solar meridian, about to have a nice lunch in a bistro where the ancient guild of cathedral carpenters used to live, and I was at one with the Universe.
Contentedly, I took out my Newton and scribbled, My Soul is at Peace in Saint Sulpice... which was instantly transcribed into The Amoebas are Screaming.
At the time, I laughed at my Newt's perverse sense of humor, but a good decade later I realized that the Newton's seemingly crap handwriting recognition software was actually sending me perfectly sensible and coherent messages...
Newton Coordinate:- January 17th, the Feast Day of Saint Sulpice, on the Paris Solar Meridian.