Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Grey Paree

Arrived in Paris on Saturday after an absence of three years. We’re here to play a couple of concerts, one here in the Capital and a second at a festival further north. 

The first thing we did after leaving our stuff at the apartment we’re borrowing, was to go to the Chartier.* For those of you who don’t know this quintessentially Parisian institution, the Chartier is a Belle-Epoch, working man’s restaurant, opened in 1895.The queue was the longest I’ve ever seen, but the wait of 30 minutes was well worth it. Inside is a vast salle of brass and mahogany holding several hundred people.We had a three-course meal with wine and coffee for 40€. If Oscar Wilde had walked in, he wouldn’t have looked out of place. Hemingway was also a devotee.

After we left, we sauntered down the dirty boulevards. There were beggars every 50 metres, lots of people shouting at lamp-posts and the usual throng of prostitutes in many of the shop doorways. It’s good to get back to civilisation from time to time.

We also arrived for Bastille Day. I’ve been on the banks of the Seine with a million or so people to watch the fireworks often enough to not bother this time round. We did see the helicopters and jets flying overhead, which were taking part in  the military parade down the Champs-Elysees; something that makes you think of South-America or the old Soviet Union.

Steve, our bass-player, was doing a gig with another band in a bar. We’d only been there a few minutes, when we bumped into Vincent, who once lived in our downstairs flat in Sauve. He had no idea that we’d be there, but Paris seems to abound in synchronicity, so we weren’t that surprised.

There are some advantages to la vie Parisien, but not many. For one thing you can eat proper baguette, not that second-rate excuse that you get further south. Parisians also have their own unique music, musette, something which will be the subject of a future rant. The downside is that the residents seem to be constantly in a state of stress. Smiling has been abolished and people in shops and bars seem to make no effort to hide the fact that the only thing which interests them is your cash, normally offered for cheap tat. 

We had a go at busking in the centre of town with Steve, an activity which I hadn’t tried for years. We figured it would be a good rehearsal for our concerts and also a way to make some money. People were enthusiastic, but not forthcoming with the money. We played in the street until the owner of a restaurant offering greasy sandwiches for fat tourists came out and told us we were making too much noise. He didn’t seem bothered by the police sirens which are heard constantly.

As we were walking back to the Metro, a guy in the street greeted Steve. We chatted for a while and he agreed with us that Paris was becoming a large cheerless tourist trap. He also said that he knew Sauve. While we were talking, an enraptured looking middle-aged tourist came up and asked if he could take his photo. The penny still didn’t drop and we went on our way. ‘Who was that?’ we asked Steve. It turned out that it was Jacques Higelin, who Steve had toured with a few years ago. I’ll read the article about him in the TGV magazine on the way back.

Maybe you’re thinking of a weekend break to a big city. Try Barcelona, it has charm. Gay Paree? you’re joking.


  1. Yes, I was in the Chartier once (with Sandie, I think, which would make it 1973) assuming it's the cavernous place where the waiters decide when you're done and whisk away the paper tablecloth. Didn't like Paris much, even then.

    Never 'eard of Higelin, I'm afraid. Have I missed anything? I do remember Plastic Bertrand from when we were staying in Paris in 1978 -- he/it was everywhere and drove me mad. Why can't the French understand pop or rock?

    Hmm, now you mention it, maybe I am thinking of a weekend break to a big city. Do you recommend anywhere to stay in Barcelona?


  2. The best thing about Paris is the past - hence Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" which is quite enchanting even to kids that have no idea who any of the writers and artists are. As for serendipity, I'll never forget bumping into you in Paris Rob in 1978. Busking even then.

    Meanwhile, Mike, Plastic Bertrand is one of that incredibly small select group of people: famous Belgians.

    First born is touring Europe at the moment and stayed in Barcelona at the weekend. On her itinerary is "Pepita Rooms (Private)". Can't remember where we stayed a few years back but it's a lovely place to go - warm even between Christmas and New Year.

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    1. I agree with whoever it was that said that the French can't play rock music as they spend too much time deciding which colour guitar to buy. As Dave pointed out, Plastic B is in fact Belgian, but don't agree that famous Belgians form a small select group; that's the Swiss.The French make no effort to tell you that someone is Belgian if they appear to be French and are lauded for whatever. Johnnie Halliday, who recently moved back to his native land, is Belgian, as was Hergé of Tin-Tin fame. Let's not forget Django Reinhardt, Albert Camus and René Magritte.They do this with anyone who takes their fancy. Sherlock Holmes, for example due to one mention of his French grandmother is considered more or less a member of the chosen race as is Shakespeare (I read an article, quite recently by some nutter).
      As for Higelin, must confess that I've never consciously heard anything by him, but he has attained a sort of national treasure status here. He was banned on the radio in the sixties, due to his political views,presumably his songs being too much for the delicate and paranoid national psyche. I'll read the long article about him in the TGV on the way home and keep you informed. You must be on the edge of your seats in anticipation.
      Millie said that despite its generally charmless population, you can't deny that Paris is still a beautiful city. She said this last night on a café terrace. I said that if you meet a beautiful woman, she ceases to be beautiful when she opens her mouth and turns out to be stupid. I could tell that the guy at the next table could speak English, as he grinned from ear to ear.
      As for Barcelona, Mike, we have a couple of addresses of places which are inexpensive, near the action, (just off Las Ramblas) and comfortable. You can put your feet in the bathroom, when you're sitting on the bed, but the majority of people don't sleep and wash their feet at the same time. Remind me when you're thinking of going, as obviously, we don't have the address to hand.
      Finally, to further explain a few things, I’ve added an article from the Observer about the dark side of the French character. It seems to have done the rounds, as Cathy, the fiddle player’s cheerful and friendly parents were talking about it when I saw them a couple of weeks ago.
      You'll need to paste it in.

  4. Can't get the link to work for some reason. If you google: 'French are taught to be gloomy,' it works.