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…