Singing, Dancing, Music
Thursday night 'Au Vin des Rues' - almost impressionistic.
Paris Life - No. 21by Laurel Avery
Paris:- Friday, 17. October:- "Hi, this is Barry from Santa Fe," said the voice at the end of the phone line, just as we were about to sit down to dinner at the usual Parisian hour of 21:00. Santa Fe boasts a bevy of Barry's, and I personally know at least three of them. This is not including another friend named Bari, to make things even more confusing.
Since the Barry from Santa Fe that I know best, who happens to be my room-mate, was standing right in front of me with a bowl full of hot couscous, I figured it was a safe bet that it wasn't him. Then my thoughts turned to my oenophile friend, Barry from Santa Fe, who I imagined might have made a spur-of-the-moment trip to France to be here for the wine harvest, though this year he would have been about a month and a half late.
FInally, I recalled that this particular Barry from Santa Fe had sent me an email back in August saying that he and his partner Diane would be visiting in October. My first bonafide visitors to Paris! I began to think of which sights I would advise them to see during their visit.Note in window gives open times for the café-restaurant.
Though it seems rather odd to me, not all people enjoy getting into the culture of the places to which they travel. For instance, while walking down the street the other night I happened to notice that a particularly large tour bus had stopped along the boulevard, allowing a good number of Chinese visitors to alight.
They crossed the street en masse and proceeded to enter a Chinese restaurant for dinner! It seems to me that if you go to the trouble of traveling to a foreign country you might at least try the regional cuisine, and in France, it's almost difficult to find a really bad French meal, while it's very easy here to find mediocre Chinese food.
So I figured that my friends, being the type who actually like to experience the culture of the country they are visiting, would enjoy an evening at a little café in the 14th arrondissement that still retains a small slice of what I think of as the authentic France.
Every Thursday evening this café goes back decades in time and transforms into an intimate Parisian music hall. The only instrument involved is an accordion, played by a woman whose voice is reminiscent of Edith Piaf as she sings such things as 'Padam, Padam' and the ever-popular 'La Vie end Rose.'
The café's patrons join in, and soon the whole place is singing along. There is even a little booklet that circulates around which has the words to most of the songs in it - in case you don't know them already - which it seems that the majority of the customers do. As the evening wears on other regulars wander in, looking like French characters sent over from Central Casting.
One tall, grey-haired, patrician-looking guy is nicknamed the 'Bibliotheque Nationale' as he knows the words to seemingly every communist anthem and revolutionary song ever written. Then there is Henri, a sweet man of 82, nattily dressed, complete with cap and an elegantly tied scarf around his neck, who dances with every woman in the place at some point in the evening, no matter her age.Typical instrument used for music-making on Thursdays.
The owner himself is always behind the bar on these evenings, and could not look more like a French 'patron' if he tried. He has a long walrus-style moustache and the ample girth that one associates with jovial restaurateurs. His shirts are the type worn by provincial farmers around the turn of the century, and after you have shown up there a couple of times, he treats you like one of the regulars.
The café-restaurant is no bigger than a large living room, and soon it was completely full, with anyone who wasn't gathered around a table standing at the bar. The music began, and within moments everyone was singing along, and any available area of free floor space was taken up by people dancing.
I had reserved a table for eight, as other friends were going to join us. By the time the music began, everyone from our group had shown up except my visiting friends. So we gave up one of our chairs to accommodate another customer, a man named Dominique.
A native Parisian, Dominique is a physicist now living in Toulouse, who often travels to Paris for his work. He has a place just down the street from the café, but told us he had never been there before.
He happened to wander in hoping for a quiet bite to eat, knowing nothing about the usual Thursday evening goings-on. It turned out to be a bit more lively than he expected, but he seemed delighted to be there and enjoyed singing along from time to time with everyone else.Au Vin des Rues on a quieter night than on a Thursday.
I told him that this sort of thing is never found in America, and he said it is not found much in France either. People rarely get together any more to sing or dance he said, as the culture has become increasingly "Americanized."
In France you can still find little pockets of innocence that rarely exist any more in the western world. This is one of them, and I hope it remains so for a long time.
My friends from Santa Fe never showed up, but I'm sure others will be visiting soon and I will be able to share this treasured little place with them too.
Opening photo and text, Laurel Avery © 2003
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