10 FRANCE, PART THREE (Paris):
Arriving in the busy city full of scurrying folks of all sorts of cries and colors, I buy a 5-day Transit Pass good for all the “Metros” (subways), buses and light rail trains in the city) and drag my bags up and down stairs in Metro stations until I make it to the home of my dear chum Francoise. Before I can dump my stuff in her cozy bedroom, she explains that the agency which sends her boarders neglected to note her scheduled request to keep her room free for me; I wave “Bonjour” to her two elderly guests as she tells me it has been arranged that I will relocate to the apartment of her colleague, Jacky-Georges Canal. This is the same fellow who I will accompany in a concert scheduled for the next day, and he is due in a few minutes for all of us to share dinner. The French conversation swirls around me vigorously – I am getting a little weary of not being able to just talk without prior planning/anticipatory translating. J-G has a CAR (a rarity in Paris) and we chat about Parking Techniques on our way to the venue for tomorrow’s concert: the same room where Francoise and he will lead a Laughter Club the following day.
The piano is mediocre but functional, and we work on our shared repertoire: J-G will sing French popular songs which everyone will know (but most of which are new to me). Two tunes I recognize as “Maurice Chevalier hits” and there’s one semi-familiar tune by Charles Aznavour, but for the most part, I struggle with interpreting the sheet music. Several have errors or poor notation… a second rehearsal can occur the next morning, a few blocks from J-G’s home, and we agree that will be a good idea. J-G drives us to his home and gives me his room to sleep in (he insists that he is fine sleeping in his office room)… and carte blanche to use his computer (with good Internet access, Yay!); and the news that he is going away for the weekend, so as of tomorrow I will have the apartment all to myself. Although he and Francoise act as though this is a marvelous gift, it is not to my liking, really. I don’t want to stay by myself; I much prefer to have friends around – even if they are just a room or two away. Ah well…
The rehearsal is in a Piano Store: “Centre Chopin.” I recall going shopping here - 17 years ago. The receptionist directs me to head through circuitous passages; in the bowels of the building there are a number of practice rooms rented by the hour. These are quite bare - a piano, bench, music stand, a chair and four blank walls - but fully functional, each with a decent Yamaha spinet piano. J-G and I whip through our repertoire in an hour-plus and he leaves while I enjoy another 40 minutes of solitary practicing. Finally some free time to stroll the streets, and the sampling of Pain Chocolat and Croissants begins.
Preparing for the concert, I change into my green medieval shirt. This proves to be the only time I wore it this entire trip. J-G brings a hat tree and a selection of chapeaux (hats); he doffs a different one from song-to-song. He goes first, and it’s true – the audience knows (and sings along) with almost all of them. They number 18 – Francoise is apologetic but this is the start of a three-day weekend and a lot of Parisians have gone out of town, especially since the weather got nice and warm for the first days in a long time (like most of Europe, it has been rainy and quite cold for the last many weeks). In the performance, my set has mostly comical, lighthearted piano solos. I present my “Musical Melodrama,” words in French; the audience is rapt with attention. I speak a little between most numbers (and at concert’s end receive more compliments on my “excellent” French-speaking abilities. If they only knew how much better it had been when lived here 16 years ago…) Francoise and Jacky-Georges wrap up the evening with a handful of Laughter Yoga exercises so the audience is definitely quite cheerful at the finish.