Bon jour encore à Paris! (hello again from Paris)
We flew Air Canada, and were satisfied with the no frills but friendly, pleasant service. We had one layover in Toronto (Eileen prefers the straight-through flight, but I enjoyed this 3-hour break from the airplane). We both got some sleep on the Toronto-Paris leg of the flight, and arrived in Charles DeGaulle airport awake and refreshed from our light breakfast (mainly fruit).
This time our first day was not such a shock! We knew the drill at the airport, though we entered via a different terminal, and made it through customs and baggage p/u smoothly. I was able to carry on my guitar, (not possible last year), so I didn't have to stress about it's whereabouts or condition. We easily found and caught the shuttle bus to the train. In less than an hour we were only a block away from our hotel, sitting on a park bench relaxing (this year we'd made reservations from the states for a room at one of last year's hotels). After about 30 minutes we checked in and took a nap. Ahhh. . .better preparation and being familiar with Paris made our arrival easy and enjoyable instead of disorienting, like last year.
We took it easy for a couple days, letting our internal clocks reset themselves--napping and going for strolls to some of our favorite spots. We even ran into a woman we'd met last year at the pot-luck dinner party we were part of on the Ile St. Louis-- Fabienne! It was so nice to be greeted so warmly by a familiar face.
We found the scene in Paris to be the same, and were ready to begin busking. We were rusty and even a little nervous--p'haps a touch of stage fright . . .but after our first set (which just happened to be at last year's favorite spot by a monastery, where there are minimal background noises to contend with) was well received and generously rewarded, our apprehension eased. By the end of our first day of work we were confident, once again, of the plausibility and pleasure of earning enough money from busking to more than compensate for our daily living expenses. Of course our daily expenses would be greatly reduced because our place to stay is in exchange for house sitting, and our only real expenses would be food and transportation.
We contacted our friends to let them know we were, indeed, in Paris and ready to watch their place. They were glad to hear from us--their plans depended on us, as ours did on them. We met them for dinner that night, and the next day moved in with them as roommates; they still had 5 days to go before they left for their holiday. We shared several meals and even helped them do the final cleaning of their restaurant before they left.
One night we all went to a park for a picnic dinner. They were planning this picnic with other friends, and asked us to join them. We were glad to. The park they were going to shows outdoor movies at night during the month of August. Thousands of people usually show up (these are free outdoor movies), and even though it was overcast and threatening to rain, the normal huge crowd was there--most groups had also brought picnics, too. It was like lawn seating for a concert, but for a movie instead. (We went to one of these last year. What happens is that people begin to arrive a couple hours early to picnic. Then, when it gets dark enough, the movie starts and everyone lies down on blankets, sleeping bags, etc. to watch. . .thousands of people doing this all together makes for quite a cool happening). Before the movie started, the wind came up and in only a few minutes it was raining very heavily ("raining cats and dogs", someone said). Fortunately, the huge market space next to this field, although closed, had a large overhang covering about 15' of cobblestone walkway the entire length of the building. Probably at least a third of the crowd simply moved there and continued their picnics, as we did. The movie was cancelled, but the event became the mass picnic with the thunderstorm as background (cheers from the crowd for the lightning), and was a very satisfying activity in itself. When the rain let up we went to a nearby bar for one more glass of wine, and then we took METRO back home. The next day our friends left for their holiday.
Since then we've been living much like last year. We play 3-5 cafes for lunch/dinner (3-5 songs each time and then I play an instrumental while Eileen passes the hat) and that takes 7-9 hours of our days (when the METRO commute and the walking from place to place is included). The rest of our time? Well, it's amazing how even this lifestyle includes cooking, laundry, dishwashing, food shopping, writing, e-mailing, etc., etc. . . and the days fill up and fly by.
Yet, we do have a couple of highlights to send.
One special day was devoted to the solar eclipse (99.2% full in Paris). We'd checked out a park, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, the day before to see if it would be a good place in which to experience this event. It was to our liking and we decided to have a picnic lunch the next day to accompany the eclipse. There were special, inexpensive glasses being sold just for viewing the eclipse, but every place we checked was sold out . . . oh well. We actually were interested in the response of the birds to the change of lighting, anyway--that's why we chose a park for the event.
The eclipse was @ 12:05 in Paris. It was a partially cloudy morning, and we got to the park by 11:30. It was surprising; lots of people were already there. As the sun came out from behind a cloud, I looked up and saw that the eclipse had already begun. We chose a spot in a grassy area, spread our sheet, and started our picnic. I decided to get a picture of the crowd with their reflective viewing glasses on, so went to face the crowd and wait for the sun to peek out again to take the picture.
When I got back to Eileen, she was sharing eclipse glasses with a lady, and they were ooh-ing and ah-ing as they traded them back and forth. When they included me in the glass sharing, I understood--the sun was now probably 75% in shadow and crescent shaped. As we watched, the sun became almost totally blocked, just the tiniest sliver at the bottom still showed. Although we didn't get the corona effect or midnight darkness of the total eclipse, what did occur was phenomenal. The birds, at first barely noticeable, became very active and many were flying around the trees. As the eclipse progressed they disappeared completely--only to begin chirping en masse as the sun began to come back out (as if it were pre-dawn) and then the flying about again, and then they diminished to only a few active as the sun came out strongly. As the eclipse went through it's cycle the light changed, also, and the scene became surreal and almost flat the lighting was so odd. . .sort of a twilight or gloaming.
Let me insert Eileen's journal description here: "When the most complete part of the eclipse happened I was looking through the glasses and got my breath taken away. . . then the air changed, my body's insides were full and warm, yet exteriorally I was chilled. Shadows prior to that moment were long and distinct. Birds quieted, people murmured. I'm hooked; I'm an eclipse fan henceforth." I agree, so am I.
After the sun came out again, we talked with the lady who'd been kind enough to share her glasses with us. We all got along quite well, sharing stories about our families and our trip. In fact, although she turned down our offer to join our picnic, she asked us to come to her apartment and visit some more! We accepted graciously, and all walked about a mile with her to her place--a large, 2 bedroom apt. in a fairly new very large apartment building. It was a cozy home, with two pianos--a baby grand and a spinet. She made us some coffee which we all shared along with some cookies and fruit she'd picked up on the way home. Her name was Therêse, she'd grown up in Paris, her husband had been a champion bridge player and had sadly passed away 7 years ago, and her six grandchildren are the joy of her life. We visited for a couple hours before we said our good byes and headed for the METRO.
This year several Parisians have befriended us, given us their addresses, and asked us to please call and come by for a visit. We seem to be continually be running into nice, friendly, gracious and helpful French people!
Another evening we were just about to play at one of our spots from last year when a guy came out the door with a guitar in his hand. We were going to leave, but he convinced us not to; said he was just going to play one song and that we should do our set after that. We waited, played our songs, and after collecting we asked him the name of the song he'd played. He took us to a couple at one of the tables and asked the woman to write down the title for us. After she'd done this, she asked us if we knew about the Place Ste. Marthe. "No", we said. She said it was very quiet there, no cars, and in an old section of Paris--only French, the "real Paris" she said. Then she said, "We're going there now, would you like to come with us?" We said "yes", but we first had to listen to another song that the guitar player wanted to play for us.
When he was done we thanked him, said goodbye, and went with this young French couple (Marthe and Vincent) to their car about a block away. They drove us to another part of Paris, not far from the Canal St. Martin, near the Belleville METRO station. Along the way they told us they were to be married in Brittany in 50 days, and loved to travel (in fact, were leaving for a short trip to Morocco in just a few days). It was very comfortable to spend time with them, and it wasn't long before the car was parked and we were walking down a tiny street on our way to the Place Ste. Marthe. We came around a corner and there it was, an open place with two restaurants of perhaps 20 tables each outside, and every table was full of people eating. They went to have their dinner, and we played our most lucrative location yet,--more tips than we usually make during a whole lunchtime of playing. After we were done, we went to say thank you and goodbye. They asked us to join them for dinner, but we graciously declined and returned to the Anvers area where we'd met them, to play some more places while people were still dining.
This is how our trip is going so far. The apartment and cat we're watching make a fine home. We easily get to places to play by using METRO and walking, and are earning more from our music than we did last year (even though there is slightly more competition this year). The French people we meet are friendly and helpful and my grasp of the French language is growing, which helps. The weather has been less than ideal--overcast with showers and cool for the past week and a half--but we're managing to work some almost everyday.
We've used the forced (rain) days off to take advantage of other opportunities. We've gone to a couple exhibitions (Monet at the L'Orangerie, and a photography show of the people of Siberia) and have seen a couple great films: BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB about almost forgotten and retired Cuban musicians and AGNES BROWNE, an Anjelica Huston film set in Dublin, Ireland. It's been a very full three weeks--a "truffle of a trip".