Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday LIghts

Paris was just starting to decorate when we were there. This is a view down the Champs Elysees. All the trees were decorated in blue lights.

The Champs Elysees ends at Place de la Concorde where they have a ferris wheel. In front of that is the Obelisk of Luxor.

The outside of a restaurant all decorated for the holidays. They decorate their streets and buildings like I remember decorations when I was a child.

Christmas trees??? of a sort. Snow covered palm trees in Paris. These were in front of Les Trois Maillets which is a fun bar/caberet that stay open until 5AM.

I found a posting from 1987 by a guy who used to play piano at Les Trois Maillets. It's really hard to describe the kind of place it is...but he gives a great description of an average night.

"I played at the Trois Maillets for about two months. The following is a record, in diary form, of a typical night at work.

12 Midnight
Upon arriving, I go downstairs to order dinner from the cooks. This starts a wild argument between two of them, presumably about who will cook the food. A rapid flow of words ensues, with gestures at me, at the kitchen, and at each other. I go sit down. Eventually one of them arrives at the table, slams down a plate and says "Bon appetite." The food is good.

12:30 AM
As I start to play, I notice that the keys are covered with a gooey film. My fingers are sticking to the keys. I mention this to the other pianist, who is still hanging around, and he says, "Oh, yeah, I always wash off the keys before I start." The first set goes smoothly.

I look around the room. The place is full of both locals and tourists, Parisians from the neighborhood and visitors from the suburbs. There is a couple sitting at one table, the man staring intently at me and keeping up a rapid commentary to his female companion, presumably on the finer points of my playing and of jazz in general. This is a distinctively French way of listening to music that I have come to notice more and more as I play in Parisian clubs. In America, people either listen or they don't. If they do listen , their demeanor is either one of silent attention, or perhaps moving to the music, snapping fingers, etc. Here in France, on the other hand, in keeping with the long philosophical tradition, this more active arts-lecture style of listening is more common.

The tap dancer arrives. I see that it is the young Brazilian. I try to ignore him. He taps me on the shoulder. "Ready for me?" he asks. With effort, I hold my tongue. We begin. He counts off a brisk beat, then starts dancing in a completely different tempo. I attempt to follow him. In the middle of the song, some German tourists enter, and as they attempt to squeeze by him in the narrow isle, he trips, goes flying, and lands sitting on a table. The crowd loves it.

2:30 AM
As I look out the front door, I see Ollie walk in, a woman on each arm. Ollie is one of the young street performers in Paris, of which there are many. Ollie is unusually talented, however. One night , walking on the rue St Andres Des Arts, I came across him singing with his partner, a huge crowd in front of them. I could hear his voice from blocks away, and I assumed it was a recording of some sort. Ollie speaks no English, but has learned American R&B or jazz tunes phonetically, memorizing purely by sound. His singing is astoundingly good. Ollie is done for the night, and like most nights, has come to the bar, his pockets bulging with Francs, and he will sit at a table and count out the night's take, buying drinks for himself and friends until much of the money is gone.

Many amateur street musicians ask to sit in at this gig, but I usually say no, or occasionally, if I'm bored, say yes to perhaps one song late at night. Ollie is a different story. Shortly after he arrives, I begin playing one of the songs I've heard him sing and he looks over at me. He comes over and begins singing, and the place falls silent. People on the street start to gather in front of the club, looking through the open doors. It's a warm July night, and Ollie's voice is echoing off the walls of the neighboring buildings, incredibly clear, loud, and soulful. He sounds like Ray Charles one moment, and Luciano Pavarotti the next. We finish the song to wild applause from both the club and the street, and immediately his friend begins passing around a hat, which returns filled with francs. Ollie pours half of them into my tip jar, and then returns to his table and orders another round of drinks.

3:30 AM
Things have quieted down a bit, and the crowd is thinning out. The old man who has for the past hour been parked at the piano with me, has, I notice, fallen asleep, his head propped on his hand, his elbow on the keys. He is snoring loudly in French. I had tolerated him for a while as he babbled drunkenly to me before nodding off, thinking that perhaps I would at least learn some more French this way.

He snores on. I find myself wondering if learning French in bars will cause me to speak like a drunk. I wonder if there's a whole separate dialect. I have images of myself at a party, years from now, with someone saying to me: "Interesting, um....accent you have Monsieur, where did you learn your French?"

5 AM
Finished for the night, I have one more drink with the club owner before heading off for home. At this hour, Paris is still very alive, but more quiet than it is at other times. I pass waiters standing outside of restaurants smoking, couples strolling home. This is my favorite time of night, as I walk straight along the river, past Notre Dame Cathedral, past the barges, and then along the quiet streets to our apartment on the rue de Lille. By the time I reach home, the sun is just starting to come up, and it's time for bed."

In 20 years since this was written.....I don't think anything has changed. This place is one of my favorite bars in Paris because you never know what is going to happen or who will step up to start signing.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Wow... that's all I can say is Wow!