Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Sounds of the City

video
Street Music [Click on PLAY button to see video]

Paris is justifiably famous for being an eye-candy kind of city. So much charm it can make your teeth ache. Sometimes you have to close your eyes to give it a rest. And when you do, you discover another city.

After a few months I began realizing there is a distinctively sonic Paris. It began shortly after we moved by noticing the irritating NEE-naah, NEE-naah, of sirens cutting through the hum. At night, before the trains shut down, there was the low rumble of the Metro passing beneath our toes on to, I assume, the Rue du Bac stop.

And then subtler sounds. We lived on the first floor, around the corner from a grammar school at the end of Rue de St. Simon. You could set your watch by their students' comings and goings. Around 8 a.m. there would be the bird-like chirping of little children passing by and later in the afternoon the whooping, cheering and sometimes crying, after another long exhausting day in a French ecole, as they trooped in the other direction.

Around the corner from our place, directly across the street from our front door in fact, was a valet-serviced restaurant with an expense account crowd in the day and after midnight a jolly, well-oiled tourist clientele rolling out the door shouting good-nights to each other as they staggered down the street. Not surprisingly the Americans were the loudest.

Whistling. I have never heard so much whistling, from the straight ahead pucker up and blowing kind to the more virtuosic trilling, sometimes making notes for the sake of it. Hearing a particularly musical warble one day I went to the window to see who it was. Walking down the street with his market bag in hand was a dour looking old guy about my age trilling away. He looked like he didn't have a joyful bone in his body but that was belied by his saucy tunesmithing.

And finally music. Yes there is the government mandated spontaneity of the Fete de la Musique every June, and the calculated charm of the hurdy gurdy man outside the gate of the Jardin Luxembourg. And no street performer can perform on the street without getting a license. But it's always fun. Like the crowd of music students (above), performing near the garish and goofy Palais Royal Metro entrance with a lot of toe tapping verve.