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Making Music and Merriment

Every year I look forward to the longest day of the year, June 21st. Not just because it casts a glorious light until as late as 10 p.m., but because this is when all of France comes out to celebrate music and everything related to it.

The festival, known as “Fête de la Musique,” has grown considerably since its beginnings 27 years ago, when Maurice Fleuret became Directeur de la Musique et de la Danse in October 1981. At the request of Jack Lang to have “la musique partout et le concert nulle part” (“music everywhere and the concert anywhere”), together they studied the cultural habits of the French and found that five million people, one out of two being young, play some sort of musical instrument and dreamed of bringing everyone to the streets to play and celebrate.

So, here we are, taking to the streets, old and young alike, to listen to, play or sing for, all those who appreciate the art and pleasure of music, not to mention a (huge) bit of merriment. On the evening of “La Fête,” I usually stick to Le Marais, since there’s always so much going on in the district, not that others are lacking in any way. This year the weather was superb — warm and breezy. Years past haven’t been so perfect.

Arriving early afforded the luck to score a front-row table at “Pitchi Poi” (“Jewish Cuisine from Russia, Poland, Central Europe, from here and Elsewhere”) at the Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine…a tiny square named after a convent which had been destroyed in the year 1783). Here there is always a tent and a variety of bands and acts that play there over

the course of the evening. During dinner, we were serenaded and amused, by the scene, if not by the quality of our food (not Paris’ finest). We collided into lots of people we knew, even in this tiny corner of the city.

Leaving the Place, we came upon a band and singer of teens no more than 15 years-old playing in front of the fountain at Impasse de la Poissonnerie (located at 2, rue Jarente, it dates back to 1783 and used to be an open street, part of the system of streets supplying Marché Sainte-Catherine and associated with the fish vendors of the market, hence the reason for the detail of the fountain façade that includes fish!). We recognized them as the even younger kids that played nearby a few years ago…growing into their musical maturity!

Around the corner at the Place des Vosges, there were almost a dozen groups doing sing-along songs in French and English, so everyone could participate. Circling the square (is that an oxymoron?), we came upon Brice Baillon leading one hundred twenty singers (I don’t believe all 120 were there!) of the Gay Men’s Choir, (“Le Choeur International Gai de Paris”) under the arches drawing a large crowd as the group of (very handsome) men sang a round of syrupy songs over which we could all get choked up. (You couldn’t help but love it! Plus, the Place des Vosges captured my heart long ago, even before life in Paris, as a youth in New Orleans spending time around Jackson Square, which was modeled after it…it just feels like home.)

It was sadly disappointing to find the doors to the garden of the Hôtel de Sully closed tight, as in years past, there was always a wonderful concert there filled to capacity with listeners lazing among the perfectly-pruned hedges. But, luck landed on us again to score a table for four at Café Hugo on the northeast corner of the square for a refreshing round of drinks, ice cream cones from a street vendor and more nearby sing-alongs.

Fully sated, we headed north toward the Mairie of the 3rd arrondissement. By 10 p.m. night had fallen. The only people left at home were those who were hanging out of their windows to hear the music down below, otherwise, all of Paris was on the streets. It was also disappointing to discover that the Mairie didn’t have it usual dance band in the courtyard, but instead a corps of drummers dressed in blue on the street out front, but dancers were feeling the beat, nonetheless and we were still on the prowl for music.

The best band we found was set up at the end of rue Dupetit Thouars next to the Carreau du Temple under a tent, lit with their own make-shift colored lights and drawing a big crowd. The music was a mixture of gypsy, Arabic and contemporary pop. Young girls were dancing sensuously and loving the attention. Little girls in ballerina garb were mesmerized, dancing and clapping along.

With every public event, and no matter with whom we find ourselves, we can’t help but notice how beautifully behaved the French are even in the most crowded situations and what wonderful, fun-loving audiences they are. I have never known rowdiness and rarely even rudeness, nor boisterousness. It doesn’t mean they aren’t having fun, that’s for sure…but not at the expense of others.

Another year, another Fête de la Musique, with several more this summer on the horizon to which we have to look forward. Yeah!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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