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.