Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paris: street music and fashion

Street music night in Paris looked promising -- at least in posters that were plastered all over town. They promised "a night when Paris won't sleep" because live bands will be playing in the open air all through the night. Public transportation was supposed to be running throughout the night, too.

When we tried to find out which exactly busses and metro trains will be running, the picture turned out to be far less rosy. In the part of town where we lived, no overnight bus or train traffic was scheduled. Ordinary Metro trains stop running around 1 a.m. That's still not too bad, allows you to take in some of the nightlife. Now, how to find out where, when, and what bands will be playing? Tricky. My mom, who among all of us was the only one armed with knowledge of French, tried to find out on the internet. Turned out, most scheduled bands stopped playing around 11 p.m. After that, there were only "spontaneous" concerts on street corners. It wasn't clear where or when they were supposed to be happening. Even their approximate locations weren't indicated. So we set out on a lark to search for any bands that may be playing.

We got off the Metro at a certain popular nightlife area, only to find out that there wasn't any street music there as far as we could see (it was a long shot anyway). Instead, the streets were full of aggressive-looking teenagers. Those with cars burned rubber on the road; those without hung out on the street, making comments at the passersby. Even without knowing French, you could tell the comments were not exactly friendly.

There was only half an hour left until the last train home. Worse -- walking back to the Metro station, we managed to miss the station we came out of. It took some searching, and two helpful French girls who explained, in a broken but passable English, where the metro station was. So we made it to the train in time. There was a twenty-something girl on the platform that started talking to us; she was from New York, but originally from Italy... I think. She was studying in Paris. Maybe. It's all a blur now. She said that she actually saw some live bands playing that night, but in a completely different part of town, somewhere near Notre Dame. She also said that earlier that night some metro station were closed and evacuated, because somebody set off gas in them; fortunately, we were nowhere near the incident.

So we got home, and it was getting close to 2 a.m. In our quiet, out-of-the-way neighborhood, all restaurants and bars were closed, but surprisingly, one little bar was still open. There was even a live band playing, but it was already wrapping up when we got there. The bar was tiny, and it only had outdoor seating. The bar owner, who was also working as a waiter, brought us drinks and stopped by to talk with us. It was like an archetype of all neighborhood bars. So the night wasn't a total loss.

Accordion player on a Metro train A puppeteer on a Metro train
Accordion player on a Metro train. A puppeteer on a Metro train.

Live music in Paris, however, can be obtained without looking far and wide -- in fact, it can and will be shoved down your throat precisely at the moments when you don't want it. I'm talking about performers on Metro trains. The trains are usually quiet, with everyone minding their own business, so it's quite jarring when the silence is suddenly interrupted by loud blaring of a 70s pop hit. At first you can't even understand where it's coming from. Is it someone's phone? Then you realize it's actually a guy standing near the door with a portable drum machine, singing into a microphone. Meanwhile his accomplice, a woman, is walking down the train and collecting donations. Perhaps these "performers" expect that people will give them money just to make them go away. I can't imagine how anyone would see this as anything but annoyance.

The performers usually get off at the next stop. I wonder if they are actually violating some law by imposing their "art" on the captive audience, and they want to get the heck out before police cracks down on them?

One time, though, I saw non-annoying metro artist. He hung a curtain between two vertical handrails and performed a short puppet show. That was kind of cute. (Sorry that the picture is so poor -- from where I was sitting, I could not photograph around that handrail in the middle. :-))

A guy in shorts and jacket A guy in shorts and jacket in a cafe

So much about music on the streets of Paris -- now a little about fashion. The boldest fashions I've seen in Paris were worn, oddly enough, not by women but by men. I'm speaking, in particular, of this odd style of combining a jacket with short shorts, often worn with low-cut or no socks.

The first time I saw a guy dressed like that, I thought he was in a costume, but later I saw more and more guys in similar outfits. I dare say it works about as well as a mullet: business on top, party at the bottom. But what do you know -- in a year or two, the streets of U.S. metropolises might be full of hipsters sporting a similar look.

1 comment:

Janet S. said...

I saw a sign on the Metro (in French) that said, essentially, "If you want quality music on the Metro, don't give money to people who play in the cars. Only the people who play in the stations are licensed." So yes, the people who play in the cars are not supposed to do that.

I don't know if they have a vetting process for giving out licenses. The performers I saw ranged from a guy with a karaoke machine to a 10-piece classical string ensemble.