Welcome to my blog; inspired by Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast, a desire to record the more succulent and misshapen nuggets of my Parisian adventure in nibble-size lobes for your light-entertainment and my anticipated future memory failure, and to get some things off my chest and onto yours.

Monday, 8 March 2010

On busking: The job with no name.

If there is one way a musician can be guaranteed to find work in Paris, it is by busking. (I said find work, not a living.)

Although the French language has no word for busking, satisfied as it is with the un-reverential description that translates 'playing in the road', the majority seem to tolerate if not appreciate it, whether they are willing to show it by coin or not.

The majority of the 'playing in the road', particularly during the colder months, actually occurs in the corridors of the métropolitain underground. To do this legally, one must pass an audtion for the RATP, which for me entailed playing one and a half pieces to a video camera connected to a man, in a room beneath an office.

A week or two later I was invited to return to pay €20 for my pass which would enable me to play as often as I liked, anywhere in the network of the metro (except on platforms and trains) for a period of six months, at which point I must repeat the process in case my skills have diminished.

After a few weeks on the tourist-filled streets of Montmartre in the summer, I had become accustomed to my average haul of around €30 of holiday vouchers for two hours playing. Come October, on my first day of several wintery weeks spent underground I was dampened if not surprised to recoup a scant €7.41 in hard-earned pay for the same amount of playing time. As I learned to enlarge that amount by a sometimes-noticeable degree finding better spots (and having the forethought to learn a Scrooge-converting tremolo version of Silent Night as Christmas crept up), I reported a dramatic if short-lived increase in un-taxable profit.

I would now like to commit the highlights of my Paris busking experience to bullet points. I begin the day after I received my pass in October 2009, and end the day in January 2010 where after 40 minutes I felt nothing but the cold, and was forced by the frosty onset to retire for the season.
  • One day a woman started dancing beside me in some kind of ITV-learned tango whilst telling me she was, more than a New Zealander, a 'citizen of the world';
  • One day a homeless man gave me some coins and cried out to the people (in French) 'It's the poor who give, not the rich' (the strange truth);
  • On two occassions I was given restaurant vouchers- which are given daily to many Parisian employees by their companies to cash in for lunch in numerous restaurants, cafes, bakeries and supermarkets- as they should be given to a homeless person who was hungry;
  • One day being asked to play for a middle-aged woman's mother's birthday party (and being walked away from, after telling her how much I charged);
  • One day being asked if I would permit a man with a harmonica to make blusey vibes all over 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra'- a man whose harmonica was in the wrong key;
  • One day having a Venezuelan cellist father of two, and husband of a rapidly tiring wife, stand beside me for a quarter of an hour playing mime guiro to my choros, before giving me €4 and telling me his guitarist father was friends with Alirio Diaz;
  • Having a Spanish school teacher give me a record €10 and have his whole class stop and listen;
  • Having a Russian man of questionable mental health leaning against the photo booth in Bastille for an hour, sporadically interjecting that I had a gypsy's soul in my fingers...
To summarise then, based upon my continuing research; do it if you have some accessible repertoire that could benefit from a pre-concert airing or need cobwebs blowing off an old set. Do it for some pocket money. Just don't see it as a career option.

Unless you've got a monkey.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Cellar door

I'm all for keeping a constant stock of wine in the house, in order that one is not caught out at a pivotal moment of drunkedness, but the question I was asked in my local Nicolas came as a bit of a surprise.

Upon asking for a recommendation for a bottle on a Friday afternoon, I was asked, "is it for drinking now?" Taking this with both confusion at what seemed to be an inquisition relating to afternoon drinking, and with the naughty guilt of a child who had eaten all the sweets in one go, I responded with gaffaw, "not for now, but for this evening..." She seemed unimpressed and I realised that what with her running a wine shop, being French, and clearly uninterested in my drinking habits, I must have the wrong end of the bottle.

It turns out, as my brother later explained, that she was asking if it was for now or for 'laying down'- in the cellar! As a recently resigned busker and jobbing musician, do I really come across aristocratic enough to want to buy wine for the distant future? Is that normal here? Or just a cleverly flattering marketing strategy to make one feel good?

Whatever it is, it feels very French.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Let's begin at the end: Graveyard Tourism.

The problem with people is that they die.

Even famous people- important artists and that- whether gradually or suddenly, will eventually cease to exist.

Not entirely so in Paris, however. Here, it is not enough to occupy your public in your lifetime; a cultural icon who dies in Paris is not yet done.

The two biggest cemetries in Paris, Père Lachaise and Montparnasse are something of a gathering for the well-cultured icon. Oscar Wilde, Jean Paul Satre, Jim Morrisson, Charles Baudelaire- they're all here, between the aristocratic families ensconced beneath structures better described as chapels than tombs, and the great figures besides whom stone Jesuses are set, weeping concrete tears for eternity.

...Jim Morrisson, doing his thing

There is no better place to celebrity-stalk than a Parisian graveyard, trust me. THEY CAN'T GET AWAY. And though traditionally sad places, given a treasure map on entry with a key showing an A-Z of the civilizing elite, there's something celebratory about the atmosphere in a Paris cemetery.

Of course, there are many bodies here who were grandparents, mothers, even sons and daughters, and there is a sadness, and certainly a guilt-lined befuddlement at the sort of Madame Tussaud's-esque pleasure where all history is for a glorious moment standing alongside you- as it was for Keanu Reeves in his career high, the Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. But there's also a wild display of arrogance and a profusion of nauseously extravagent tombs (think Louis XIV and what he had his interior designers do in Versailles) to keep you occupied between Chopin in M9 and Piaf in N5.

And then there's those graves which are just brilliant. Take Bird Man in Montparnasse:

Are you a 'goth' in need of a sympathetic shoulder? I recently saw a large be-pierced gathering clad in leather and blackness (one sporting a gimp mask- and why not- it was the weekend after all) hanging out in Père Lachaise. (No Photo.)

My advice is to take a camera, a hamper, a bunch of used metro tickets*, and a group of like-minded friends, and enjoy the great Parisian pleasure that is the open-air museum of the enlightened deceased. It's so nearly wrong; it's utterly right.

Surprise yourself, with Graveyard Tourism.

"Totally bodacious, dude." -K. Reeves

*There is a tradition of laying used metro tickets on Serge Gainsbourg's grave in Montparnasse, in reference to his song Le poinçonneur des Lilas. This has, by accident, inexplicably spread also to the joint grave of Jean Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Zebra Warning

The zebra crossing in Paris is something of a misnoma. First of all it's yellow, and therefore doesn't resemble an African equid in the slightest. As a result, it is simply and unexotically called a passage piéton. Secondly, it has no function.

You can stand waiting at one eager to cross all day and the traffic will not stop. Apparently, the law here is that traffic is only required to stop when someone is actually walking across the stripes. But faced with a car driving quite fast towards you, it is hard to just shut your eyes and hope.

Take heed and be safe. In Paris the pedestrian crossing does not exist; it's just more road, with yellow bits on.

...they wouldn't have dared it in Paris