There is always the hush before the soundtrack begins to roll, and the music starts to play. The mind leaps ahead to begin to figure out the scene that is about to take place. And so it is with the musical score of Paris. The daily soundtrack is familiar to all: the roar of buses, the crash of bottles hitting a trash can, the suddenly blaring of the car horn, impatient for the next car to get going. Paris is not always a quiet city, but it is possible above to tumult to find the music that fulfills the moment.
The city has the perfect layout to encourage and shelter itinerant musicians. 16th century galleries surround the Louvre. Bridges built for Napoleon Bonaparte that provide shelter for many. Glass roofed galleries raised over small alleyways to protect the hem of the 18th century countess on her way to her 5 to 7 rendez-vous. And then the Carnegie Hall of wandering musicians: the Paris Metro, with its hundreds of miles of tunnels and its captive audience.
The music itself goes from the simple and self-taught, music that does not take itself seriously, to the conservatory student using practice time to make a few Euros, to the what would be a “garage band”, should there be spare garages where to practice in Paris, to the absolute sublime. A beat up penny whistle from a beggar, both of which have seen better days, but still offering a musical event in exchange for money. The jazz trio that stakes its habitual site at Odeon Metro stop on Friday evenings at 6, just when the working world begins to pour into the musty tunnels, but who have time to listen to good jazz to prepare for the evening to come. A single harpist ensconced under the arches of the Place des Vosges, adding an aural accompaniment to the splendors of the glories of the perfect royal garden square, in the middle of the crowded city.
Many people are bothered by these musicians. They conscientiously avoid the train car on the metro with the banjo player, they cross the street to avoid passing the upturned hat of the gypsy jazz fiddler. But like a moth, seduced to her doom, I flit closer and closer to the music that captures me until the song ends, and I scrounge my purse for a spare coin. For the music to me makes Paris what it is. I cannot imagine the city without at least the far off sound of a cellist playing late into the night.
I went to lunch once with a French friend when I was working in Paris and she asked me why they always play accordion music in films about France that are made in America. I replied that it was because it is such a French sound. She argued about this as we left the restaurant, and there in front of the restaurant, was an accordionist, playing away. She gasped and said that she had never seen one before. I answered that she really had never been looking…
I will end this short story with a photo of two young opera performers, singing on a warm Sunday afternoon under one of the covered arches. The loveliness of that performance added to the hint of summer and that French je ne sais pas quoi.
Guide books will tell you about the cheap eateries or hotels. But as you stroll through the streets of Paris, pause and toss a coin into the hat of the musician that provides an essence, almost invisible, but indelible to the memories you will collect along your way.
- Elizabeth from Delta Vacations