Our first day was definitely notable. After spending a couple of hours doing our final packing, Beth, Bill, and Chano (our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson) drove us to the airport. We arrived a couple of hours early (just in case). It was simple and straight-forward to check in and find our gate, and as we were told by our friends who'd given us stand-by tickets as a going away present, we had to wait until the whole staging area emptied before our names were called. “ YES” , we thought when we heard our names through the PA, “ We’re on ! (even though in coach). We were slightly disappointed; we’re really been hoping for the free upgrade to business class (a ticket option). We’d check several times prior to departure time (even that morning) and had been told there was lots of room available. Oh well, “C’est la Vie.” Just as we were certain that our lot was sealed and we’d be staying in coach, they called ten to twelve names, and within minutes we were seated in business class with lots of legroom and seats that adjusted in eight to ten different ways using various electronic buttons!! Ahhhh… what a TREAT! (it’s a long ride straight-through to Paris, and our upgraded seating arrangement helped us deal with it better). Besides the legroom, the food was the best we’d ever had on an airplane.
We had expected to get some sleep on the flight over, but the seats weren’t that comfortable, and we were pretty wound up and excited about actually beginning our adventure (for six years we’d been planning and anticipating this day!) When we landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport, outside of Paris, it was 1:00 PM, and swelteringly hot and humid -- even though we’d been awake all night we were still energized by the onset of our great adventure. The francs we’d prepared ourselves with before we left (and some crude French I was able to recall from high school) got us our train tickets, said Rangers to help her job to fail station; it looked like a central spot and not for from the Latin quarter where I’d been in 1981. We couldn’t believe how heavy our packs were(!!) especially in our over-tired-running-on-adrenaline state of being (we hadn’t practiced carrying them prior to leaving as had been suggested), but we managed to get them on the train, and off again, when we reached our stop.
Now we were in the heart of the BIG city in a foreign country, and discovered the gruesome reality of not having a plan (or even a clue) for our first day and arrival. We were hot, tired, and feeling sick from the strange combination of rich foods we’d eaten on the plane. We were void of direction or focus …major city traffic was whizzing all around us… we wandered around truly aimlessly, looking for what, exactly, we didn’t know. We sat on the edge of a fountain to try to get a grip and generate a plan, but our fatigue, jet lag, and sensory overload made it virtually impossible (we’d already priced rooms at a couple of hotels and found the rates exorbitant, and couldn’t get any hostel information at all).
By now it was 4:30, and even though I was able to find the address of an Office of Tourism (while Eileen waited with the packs and guitars) it was too late to go there! What to do, WHAT TO DO?? After a very tense discussion, we decided to hike with our stuff to the Latin Quarter where I knew there used to be less expensive hotels – a good mile away. By this time Eileen could no longer carry her pack, so she carried her guitar and I lugged the rest of our gear across the Seine, past Notre dame, and onto the Rive Gauche (Left Bank). We were unable to appreciate the scene; we were so blitzed and frazzled! We saw a hotel sign down a narrow street and went to it. I stumbled through my crude vocabulary and found out this hotel was full – bummer! They suggested we try another hotel (Hotel Studia); I was able to understand their directions, and got us there.
Success! They had a room available, and though it still seemed expensive at 320 francs, cost was no longer a factor; the need for rest and relief from carrying our gear was more important (as well as the resolution to the, “What are we doing?” question). After we got our stuff and ourselves into the tiny elevator (called a “lift”) and up to our third-floor room (two single beds, a shower, a sink, a table, and a wardrobe) I went out in search of something to eat and drink, and to have a look–see at our area; Eileen collapsed into a delirious sleep.
I found the perfect place; and purchased a falafel from a small stand (MAOZ – only sold drinks and French fries besides falafels) and took it back to Eileen. Yum: a great food for us to complete our day. This first day was by far the most grueling, trying, stressful, and depressing, of our entire trip …and still, it was a challenge we rose to and dealt with.
Thus began our time of hotels (we also investigated hostels in Paris but found them to be only a little less expensive -- the loss of privacy wasn’t worth the small reduction in money. Really! The Office of Tourism told us when we inquired that no hostels in Paris took anyone older than 26, but by following up on an address they gave us, we got accurate hostel information [any age was fine] and more hostel addresses in Paris.)
We stayed at two hotels...
The first one was Hotel Studia on boulevard St. Germain, a busy four-lane street in the Latin Quarter; the hotel itself was only 3-4 blocks from the very heart of the restaurant and club district (the highly tourist-frequented area of the Left Bank). Our first room on the third floor had a shower, a toilet and a sink in the room; when we left a week later we were on the fifth floor with shower and toilet down the hall (but a bidet and a sink in the room). This room was too expensive for a long term stay, though we really liked the people that ran the place.
We stayed at the second hotel, Hotel Rhetia, for two weeks (only one week at the first place). We reduced our housing costs by 1/3 by moving, though it still was more than $30/night. We lived about 1½ miles from the center of Paris, on a side street that bordered a block-square neighborhood park that had a playground, concrete pingpong tables, a kiosk., bocce ball courts, and an area for roller skating (much gentler background sounds). The rooms were nice. We moved around several times inside this hotel to accommodate other travelers’ reservations. It was good to live away from the area where we wound up busking so we had the feeling of going home from work. We found a local café to fulfill our desire for coffee in the morning – no longer was a continental breakfast complimentary with our room. The people were not as nice here, and harder to communicate with – only one part-time desk clerk was willing (or able) to communicate clearly, using English if needed, to help us understand (even when paying our bill). When we left there we move to the apartment we’ve been sharing with the owner of one of the restaurants where we frequently ate… but I’m getting ahead of myself; that’s another whole story! Let’s backtrack a little…
Our first day here we were very disoriented by the time we settled in for the night (I hope we’ve given you a sense of that). Not only disoriented; but not familiar at all with the city, it’s districts, action, or how street performers (or “Buskers”) plied their trade these days. For the first two weeks we vacationed and did research. We walked for miles and miles exploring various neighborhoods, looking for performing street musicians to try to learn the ‘how to’ of our plan, at the same time shedding our recent pattern of schedules, project pressures, tenseness and rushing around taking care of details -- our complex and busy lifestyle we’d come to be engulfed by!! We really needed to vacation and to ‘let go’; we’d been pushing for three years with the house conversion project! It’s actually amazing, too, that in only two weeks we were relaxed and oriented enough to begin busking (it felt good to get relaxed and remain casual, spontaneous and timeless).
We really hadn’t seen many other street performers at all -- most we’d seen were performing on sidewalks with a can, hat, pile of cloth, open instrument case, or some other designated spot for people to ‘toss’ or ‘pitch’ some change into as they walked by. So we proceeded with this format (as I’d done on my last short trip in 1981). We picked a fairly quiet corner on the sidewalk between Forum des Halles and the George Pompidou Center, took out our guitars, left the case open (with some suggestive change already inside to help people understand the intent and process) and played a six song set… very little response at all. It started to drizzle, so we put our guitars away and counted our coins – we’d made a whopping 4 francs! (66 cents). We were not very encouraged, but at least we’d begun, and played our very first set in the streets of Paris!
We walked across the sidewalk to talk to a street vendor and look at his jewelry – he’d come over shortly after we’d begun and put in at least 1 of the 4 francs we’d made. Surprisingly enough, he spoke English, and we talked with him for a while. Among other bits of information he shared, he suggested that we consider finding some cafés with outdoor tables (“terraces”, he called them), play the same type of set there, and pass the hat. He told us that this is very commonly done, and that our music was nice, well done, unobtrusive, and perfect for people at outdoor cafés. He also said that they would “respect what we can do,” whereas the people walking by generally would not. He was very convincing, and reaffirmed what we’d been told by former buskers about performing at outdoor cafés (we hadn’t seen this happening, yet). We thanked him for his advice and information, and headed back to our hotel, shut down by rain.
Later on that very night we were walking around without guitars and saw a duo play a restaurant as Brendan (the street vendor) had described. We watched them, waited until they were done and had collected, and went to talk to them. They were friendly (Swedish but singing in English) and told us that they were on their way to Switzerland because Parisians were about to close their businesses and go ‘en masse’ on holiday, and busking would be harder in Paris than in Switzerland because of it. …but we’d seen their method, and we now had a model (as we’d been told – play a few songs [3-5], pass the hat at each table [actually a small container]; move on to the next café and do it again!).
The next night we began. Our first place was a fairly large outdoor café on a traffic circle (the Bastille). We played our little set and I played one more song while Eileen collected – 66 francs this time ($11 American) much better …exciting and encouraging, and by the end of the evening we’d made enough to pay for our hotel bill! ALRIGHT!! We were thrilled; there was a concrete glimmer of plausibility to our plan! From that day on we survived by busking; making enough in coins each day we played to cover expenses. We refined the process, and sometimes looked for the maitre d’ to ask permission before we’d play (we played full sets once or twice only to be told afterwards that we couldn’t pass the hat [in our case a yogurt jar, about the size of a baby food jar, wrapped in tape] – not fair, but part of our learning process). Most places our performance was well-received by owners and customers alike, and our music an enhancement to the Parisian dining experience.
After only a few days of continuous success with this method we agreed we needed to go thank Brendan (the jewelry maker/street vendor) for his advice, and even make a purchase or two from him. We set aside a Sunday specifically to find him and do this. He was on the corner across from where we first met him, and glad to hear it was going well for us. ( He had been stopped from selling his jewelry just before we got there, and was waiting to set his wares back out again). As we talked, we mentioned that we needed to find an apartment to share so we could reduce our costs of housing, and he suggested we go to a place – the American Church – and look at their bulletin board; it was the main way that English-speaking people made connections for housing, vehicles, etc. in Paris, and it was very well known amongst travelers – thanks again, Brendon! As he was trying to direct us to it a woman friend of his arrived who knew exactly where it was, and minutes later we knew what train to take and what METRO stop to use to get there easily.
It was afternoon, and we weren’t ready to go there right away, so we headed back to our hotel. After refreshing ourselves, we tried to find a club that a woman we met on a bus had told us about (the woman was a singer, had an American boyfriend, and was going to be performing that evening). We only had the name of the place, and could only find a telephone listing and address for a place with a very similar name – we decided to give it a try and hoped for the best. On our way out, the desk clerk told us that we’d have to leave the hotel by Wednesday (it was Sunday) due to the hotel being completely booked with reservations. We were disheartened, but knew it was too expensive, anyway, so resolved to go to the American Church the next day, as Brendon had suggested.
Well, we did locate our address, but it wasn’t a club; so we couldn’t be entertained, reunite with the woman from the bus, or meet her boyfriend. Oh well. But we were just around the corner from one of the two inexpensive restaurants we’d been getting good vegetarian food from, so we opted for dinner out – a couple of stuffed baked potatoes (huge white potatoes, [very tasty when baked] stuffed with Greek salad, coleslaw, and picante! YUM!).
We reached the potato place a lot earlier than usual (9:00 p.m. instead of after midnight as usual after playing cafés and heading back to the hotel). Our regular counter person was there, greeted us warmly, and fixed or potatoes – he had our order memorized! We noticed a person preparing food that we’d never seen before, and assumed he was another employee. He came out to the counter and said to us, “My partner tells me you are musicians; what kind of music do you play?” We were about to leave, but stood at the counter and had a nice little talk. He also asked where we were staying, and we told him about our hotel; how we had to leave there by Wednesday and that we were hoping to find someone who wanted to share their apartment. He got this little smile on his face and replied, “I can do that; I was going to put an ad up at the American Church tomorrow – come back around 10:30 and I can take you and show you the apartment tonight.” We were stunned, dumbfounded, and amazed – yet another truly synchronistic, complexly related chain of events, culminating in exactly what we needed, arising and falling right into our laps (so to speak). Of course we were still a little wary; we had to check out this new person and his apartment before we could be certain it was the right place and situation.
When we returned at 10:30 he was still busy in the shop, but we split two beers between the three of us and continued our conversation (and the ‘checking out’ of our respective personalities and energies). He closed up shop and we had our first car ride through Paris (exciting to be in a whizzing auto like the ones we’d been avoiding as pedestrians!). We were not disappointed when we entered the apartment – musical instruments were hanging on the walls of the living room and one bedroom. There were three bedrooms, and he only needed one for himself. The place looked ‘lived-in’, but was basically clean and more than satisfactory. We moved in the next day. We could cook our own meals, listen to an excellent sound system, relax in a living room, wash our clothes in the washing machine that was in the bathroom, and generally have a peaceful home to relax in after a hard day or night of playing sidewalk cafés. Not only was our roommate a clean, gentle, and honest person, he was also a very talented musician and excellent cook. It was wonderful. It all manifested in such an ‘organic’ way; we often thank the Universe for its support.
…One notable case in point regarding ‘synchronistic universal direction’. It happened at the end of the third week (our 1st week of performing) on our way back to the hotel. We were leaving the Latin quarter, crossing the Seine and heading for our hotel via the rue St. Luis en L’ile (photo to left - the street that runs right down the center of the Ile St. Luis, an island in the Seine right behind the island where Notre Dame was built, the Ile de la Cité). It’s one of our favorite narrow streets lined with six story stone buildings, almost all with unique, quaint, artistic shops at street level. We love looking in the shop windows which included a marionette shop (very cool), and a Persian rug shop that had a grand piano in it (that Eileen longed play each time she saw it). It was 11:00 p.m. or so, and the road was blocked to vehicular traffic.
As we walked past the barricade we came upon a most cozy site – a circle of 10-12 people sharing a meal by candlelight. They had brought put Persian rugs for the street and had even hung some as backdrops on the barricades. There were a couple sofas, some chairs and a table; 6-8 candles provided soft light for a small dinner party. “Ahhhh… that looks cozy” one of us said, and we smiled at each other. As we were just passing by on the sidewalk (outside their little ‘room’ area, behind one of the sofas) one of the women there said to us, “Play us a song, and then eat with us, please” (they had all just about finished their meal). “OK” we said, and threaded our way between the furniture into their cozy gathering, and while one man offered and poured us each a glass of champagne, we got our guitars out and played them a couple songs.
They were very receptive and pleased; a warm group of people, and they insisted that we eat. They didn’t need to twist our arms; not only were we hungry, we’d eaten basically only two different dinner foods for three weeks, and were tired of both. They presented us with a Persian rice dish that was very tasty (it had golden raisins and flavorful spices) and a beautiful green salad with a light vinaigrette dressing, followed by fresh raspberries, various delicate cookies, ice cream, more champagne, and light wine as well. It was a magnificent vegetarian feast – home cooked foods we’d been sorely missing, plus some very tasty treats. Even more special than the food was the company of these people – they were so warm, and included us so easily in their party, making us feel comfortable and at ease. As we talked with them during our dinner we found out that this was actually a pot-luck block party, and the first time they’d ever done such a thing (it was because the street was closed to traffic that they’d thought to do it). The group was composed of several shop owners and nearby residents, and some spoke English quite well, so good communication was possible. After eating, I got my guitar out again and played some soft background music (the main thing I could share/contribute) and once more they were very receptive and appreciative. We realized we still had a good mile-plus to walk, and began saying goodbyes – handshakes all around. Everyone felt how special of an evening it had been for all of us. They, too, started dismantling their room; everyone was leaving together, now. Such a wonderful time, place, group of people, dinner… Eileen and I floated home, even avoiding the busier boulevards so as to savor the mood and memories.
This was a truly wonderful, organically arising happening for us, and we realized that having the guitars with us had been the key to us been asked to join them (many other pedestrians passed by while we were there, but weren’t invited to join in). As we thought about it some, we realized that the guitars show that we are musicians, and that many of our contacts had been directly related to the musicians. It was the reason we met Brendan the street vendor, and the female singer on the bus. Even our roommate initially talked to us because his partner had told him we were musicians. It is amazing to be so free and yet still be so connected to physical, emotional, personal, and spiritual support we need.
We also played for two groups of people with our friend and roommate Terry (who is of Turkish decent, has lived in Paris for ten years, speaks fluent French and English, and is a talented musician, playing mandolin, recorder and guitar quite well).
The first time was a newly opened restaurant’s open house party. It was ½ block away from Terry’s restaurant (on the same street). We met him there at 10:00 p.m. one evening (we played for tips at 3 other nearby places earlier); he took us inside and introduced us to a few people. We put our gear (including Terry’s mandolin) in the corner and had a drink hors d’oeuvres as we squeezed through the crowded, small café. We socialized a little, but didn’t overcome the language barrier very well. After a short while we got our instruments and slithered through the people. Three times we were able to play a couple tunes, shoulder to shoulder, instruments only inches apart – just barely audible even right next to us… very close quarters. Each time it was appreciated by those around us and added an ambiance that seemed cool/groovy and enriching. We did a small encore for a Madame Schmidt in the courtyard outside the back door. (Madame Schmidt and Eileen developed a rapport earlier, though language failed both of them, neither able to speak the others). About twenty minutes later we left with Terry, and after a leisurely walk and a beer a tavern on the way, we caught one of the last Metros back to Clichy. It was a good time had by all, and a creative way to play for this party.
The next time, we were playing at the reception party for a marriage – two Americans running their successful restaurants/café/coffeehouse in Clichy. Here we played twice –once after the presents were opened, and also later on when the group was smaller and able to be more intimate. The first time ended by being the accompaniment for the newlyweds’ first dance (a waltz). There was more space to play in and more English spoken at this affair than at the open house, and we stayed until everyone left. But, alas, that evening Eileen ‘lost’ her voice and couldn’t sing again for nearly a week.
Oh yeah, one more highlight from Paris…
While Eileen was collecting our earnings one afternoon in a café, (I was still playing the final collection instrumental) a young man asked her if we were interested in being in a movie! When we finished our routine we talked with him more. His director had just seen us and wanted us to be part of his new film that needed street performers to help portray Paris as a setting. We liked the idea; we gave him our number, and he gave us his number and production company’s card. The only shooting date possible was October 30; we were planning to leave Paris on October 1.
We both loved this incident! We saw it (and still do) to mean: 1) street music is an integral part of Paris, and 2) for some reason our act was very in tune with (possibly almost the epitome of…) the indigenous, Parisian busker. To be this was a goal; this director’s offer was feedback telling us we’d attained that goal. It’s exhilarating to have achieved this, and we both really enjoyed the street-performance world. Well, October 30th didn’t work for many reasons; we still really appreciated the offer.