QUESTION: Are lay persons allowed to attend Mass and other services at the Benedictine monastery in Solesmes, France, to hear the Gregorian chant? Where is the nearest rail station and can one stay in Solesmes itself?
ANSWER: The monks of Solesmes are celebrated for their scholarly work on the Gregorian chant and, starting in the 1800's, for their revision of liturgical works. Their abbey, St. Pierre, was founded in the 11th century and is between Le Mans and Angers.If you are in Paris, you can arrive in time for the main Mass, offered daily at 9:45 a.m. Seating is limited and cannot be reserved, so it's a good idea to be on hand at 9:30 when the doors open for the Mass, sung by about 80 Benedict monks. There four other daily services, or canonical hours - at 1, 1:50, 5 and 8:30 - at which time you can hear Gregorian chant.
Taking the TGV from Gare Montparnasse at 7:15 a.m. on any day but Sunday will get you to Sable-sur-Sarthe by 8:30. (On Sunday, the TGV also leaves at 7:15 but, because of a layover in Le Mans, does not get to Sable-sur-Sarthe until 9:56.) The round-trip fare is $89.50 in first class, $59.80 second class, calculated at 5.25 francs to the dollar.
From the Sable train station to Solesmes, a two-mile trip, you can take a 15-minute ride on the No. 8 bus ($3.25 round trip), take a taxi ($7.25 one way), rent a bicycle or walk. Bike rentals at the station are $8.40 for a half a day or $10.50 for a full day.
There are several trains a day in each direction between Sable and Paris. Frequency depends on the day of the week and the season, so it is best to check first. The last train back to Paris leaves at 6:52 p.m.
If you plan to stay in Solesmes overnight, your choices are very limited. The only hotel in town, the Grand (telephone 22.214.171.124, fax 126.96.36.199), faces the abbey; its rate is $77 for a double. The Grand has a restaurant and charges $8 a person for breakfast.
Another option is to lodge at the Abbey of St. Pierre, which is for men only, or at Ste.-Cecile, its female counterpart.
QUESTION: I plan to be in Rome and Florence in September and would like to attend some demonstration classes for making pasta. Do you know of any schools that hold classes or demonstrate the preparation of a variety of pastas?
ANSWER: Your timing is not quite ideal since September in Italy is still considered a holiday month. In addition, none of the schools surveyed in Rome and Florence offers a course specifically in the making of pasta. Most have courses that are broader in scope and that begin in mid-October when the weather is cooler.
But all is not lost. There is at least one school in Rome and one school in Florence that said it could arrange a private lesson in September with a chef who speaks English.
The school in Rome, which calls itself Atavolaconlochef (Atthetablewiththechef), can set up a private lesson in pasta-making, according to Maria Teresa Meloni, a spokeswoman.
Ms. Meloni said that the lesson, lasting three hours, would cover all the basics: making the dough for egg noodles, semolina and durum wheat noodles as well as making such different kinds of pasta as spaghetti and tagliatelle and even making stuffed pasta, like ravioli or tortellini. You would also learn to prepare very basic sauces. The cost is $196, computed at the rate of 1,529 lire to the dollar.
Although the school (60 Via dei Gracchi, 00192 Rome) does not reopen until October, you can leave a message; telephone and fax (06) 3203402 or telephone (06) 3222096.