After the Ukulele Festival on Friday and Saturday, my weekend in Paris continued on a musical note on Sunday with the Old Time & Bluegrass Festival. I’d chosen my Airbnb for its proximity to the festivals but I didn’t realise I’d be able to spot the venue from my bedroom window. Looking out to the canal and a little bit left (see my previous post for a photo) the red and yellow stripes of the Anako marked the spot. It’s an old barge that is now a music venue with a bar and concert space inside and a deck outside. I’m not sure if it still moves, but it certainly floats.
I spent the afternoon on the deck jamming with an eclectic mix of Old Time and Bluegrass players from many corners of the globe who find themselves in Paris.
I bumped into Heather Stewart from Melbourne (now based in Paris), watched a young band from North Carolina flat foot dance by the canal with a beer, had too many coffees, learnt about the migration of folk music to America, and descended into the barge for the evening concert. There is something fabulous about being at water level but inside. Even in May the sun is already setting quite late so the portholes gave a view of the canal and people wandering on Sunday evening.
I caught up with a few friends on Monday and wandered in the sunshine before heading off to the airport to catch a plane down to Bilbao in the north west of Spain. This weekend is definitely my favourite time to be in Paris (with my ukulele) and I may just have to make it an annual trip.
Having a holiday in the middle of a holiday seems extraordinarily decadent, but one does what one must. The kids’ dad came over to visit, so I got a week off parenting – yippee! I skipped of to Paris with my ukulele and a little backpack last Friday night for the Paris Ukulele Festival followed by the Old Time & Bluegrass Festival. I was in Paris last year for the same weekend and it was great to be there again and have friends this time. I missed the open-mic night on the Thursday, but made it to the buzzing bar, Aux Petits Joueurs, in the north east corner of the city on Friday night. I met up with a lovely friend, Pascal, who I met at the same time and place last year, and we shared a plate of charcuterie – a variety of hams, saucisson (a bit like salami), pâtés and rillettes – with some beers. When the waiter came to collect the plate at the end, I loaded a piece of bread with the remaining rillettes and cornichons, to which the waiter responded by saying it would a terrible waste to leave the butter and slapped a great chunk of it on the top of my already dangerously loaded slice of baguette.
One of the things I love about the ukulele world is the enthusiasm and goodwill, and Pascal embodies just that. Accountant by trade and ukulele lover by choice, he recounted his musical adventures since we’d last met with delighted animation – of the group that he sometimes plays with in his home town in the mountains in central France, the new uke the local luthier is making for him, and the tricky parts about strumming. It makes me smile just thinking about what a fun evening it was, with various players from the festival gracing the stage for an informal night before the serious session began the next day. I ended the night catching with some other people I’d met in 2016, and made it back to my lodgings at 2am.
I’d booked a super-cheap Airbnb in the area, and while the bed lacked a certain amount of padding – you know that feeling when you wonder what’s sticking into your shoulder in the middle of the night and realise it’s the spring – the view over the Bassin de la Villette made up for it. A little later in the day, there were five or six pétanque games in action.
Saturday I was on a mission to find the big opshop around the corner. France doesn’t have a lot of opshops, but when they do, it’s a big warehouse. I sniffed around the bookshelves (I was very restrained and didn’t buy anything, fearful of my EasyJet baggage restrictions on Monday), admired the grand old furniture at ridiculously low prices and marvelled that the Ikea items were more expensive, and then flipped through the racks of clothes. No pretty dresses in my size and style, but I didn’t find a great little Parisien boutique designer shirt by Anne Fontaine. I just googled the label and am now both horrified and delighted to find that my 8€ purchase retails at several hundred new!
Then I wandered. Without the small people with me, I was free to stroll the streets. This is definitely my favourite thing to do in Paris, just watching the world go about its business. I eventually ended up at the uke workshop with Ukulele Uff, master of the speedy strum. This was followed by jamming on the terrace with a couple of ladies – quel joie to sing in spontaneous three part harmonies on a sunny afternoon. The main concert in the evening followed by drinks at the local bar and I ended up on the street playing tunes until 3am. Loads of fun and a pleasant stroll home through the sleepy streets of Paris.
Now, to learn all of the strums, chords and tunes I added to my list…
The sound of a marching band and activity in the square outside my house raised me from my slothful reading in bed on Monday morning. I was enjoying the public holiday and not having to get the kids off to school, but had done nothing more than briefly wonder why it was a day off. A little research was in order. Although much of France was celebrating the defeat of the fascists in the presidential election the day before, the 8th of May marks the end of the Second World War in Europe. (The war didn’t finish in the Asia-Pacific region until the 2nd September 1945). At 10am the local marching band assembled – complete with large, white, marching tuba – and paraded up to the memorial outside the post office. They began the ceremony with an enthusiastic version of La Marseillaise, followed by a few speeches, a bit of flag raising and lowering, and a few tunes.
Despite the French architecture and tricolor flag, I was struck by just how similar it all was to war memorial services in little Australian towns, and probably towns all over thewestern world – the community band, an audience of mostly over 70s, a few younger re-enacters and a couple of random onlookers.
Had I not been in my pyjamas I might have gone outside to observe a little closer, but as it was, the view from the bathroom window on the first floor was quite good.
We’re nowhere near Flanders, but the poppies are out in between the vines. As Lucie remarked, the purple and blue flowers enhance the vibrant red of the poppies.
The last day before starting French school (after 4 weeks holidays) saw my small hedonists playing poker in the sunshine with stinky cheese on baguette. Now if that pigeon that keeps cooing out of time would just get a metronome, Gabriel would be completely relaxed.
The last week has been rather beastly with gastro and cold, rainy weather, but things are looking up as the sunshine returns and school starts.
And now for this week’s CHEESE REPORT:
Saint Felicien – so creamy and smooth it almost needs to be eaten with a spoon. Hard to stop before slowly devouring the whole thing.
Munster – still Lucie’s favourite, with a slightly ammonia edge hovering around its orange rind and gooey centre. Not for the faint hearted. Particularly delicious on sunny afternoons while playing cards.
Brie de Meaux – just how Brie should be. Served at room temperature for maximum ooze and flavour.
Roquefort – a green mould sheep’s cheese whose bark is worse than its bite. In fact it’s almost sweet, and one of the roundest flavoured mouldy cheeses out there. The last of the piece in my fridge is destined to end in a buttery sauce for pasta (or maybe just spread on baguette).