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Parisian Civic Pride Is Music To Our Ears

This is all new to me — this idea of taking a civic responsibility. In fact, I slept through most of Civics 101 in high school and graduated without understanding much about how government works or even caring much about voting, except for voting AGAINST a candidate I didn’t like. In all the cities I’ve lived in, I had no desire to take part in any committees or organizations devoted to the benefit of the city. Paris has changed all that.

It started with the annual meetings of my building’s “copropriétaires” — when all the homeowners gather to vote on the coming year’s budget and discuss improvements to be made to the common grounds. Tonight is the 4th one I will have attended…each time I have a better understanding and more input as my level of French has improved. Last year when they talked of holding a “courtyard party” in the summer, I volunteered to bring good ol’ American style barbecued chicken wings and they all got a big laugh (the token American barbecuing…ha!). I had the last laugh when they ate every last one and did a very un-French thing…licked their fingers!

A few weeks ago, I went to a “Reunion du Conseil de Quartier Temple” at the Mairie of the 3rd arrondissement. At that time, there was discussion about the “Carreau du Temple” project which would soon be voted on by the residents of the “quartier.” There were
three proposals on the boards to revitalize the iron structure: 1) “Le Sport en Avant,” 2) “La Culture d’Abord” and 3) “Un Espace Pour Tous.”

Not long after, one of the principal players of that meeting, the Vice-President of the Conseil de Quartier Temple, M. Richard Toffolet, contacted me at the recommendation of the Paris Tourist Bureau. He’s starting a committee to discuss encouraging the openings of Bed and Breakfasts in the neighborhood. Of course, yes, I’d be delighted…considering our work with property finding and vacation apartment rentals…how appropos!

By sheer happenstance, I was at the Mairie Sunday night for a concert by the “Orchestre Philharmonique Européen” conducted by Hughes Reiner. Little did I know that the vote for the Carreau du Temple project would be announced during intermission of the concert. The musicians (all from Russia, brought here by Reiner and his team to perform), were seated upstairs in a large central space and the audience stood in a semicircle facing them — in a very informal fashion.

Reiner is an animated conductor reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein, but even more so — he jumps, he makes faces at his musicians, he waves his wand with gusto and the musicians respond with tremendous enthusiasm. The selections he chose of Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Bizet and others were exhilirating — everyone was smiling. Going through my mind was not only the fabulous tones, but the idea that such a classical concert employing at least two dozen musicians brought here from so far away could be offered free of charge to the public, a small public at that, and how often would that happen Stateside?

At half-time, the vote was announced by Mayor Pierre Aidenbaum. “Un Espace Pour Tous” is what we’ll have — a vote that seems fair to all. The orchestra then reconvened and Reiner started it off then turned over his wand to the Mayor, who wallowed in all the attention and became as animated as Reiner…then declared he’d love to switch roles…let Reiner run the city hall while Aidenbaum takes over as conductor.

At the end of this very civilized gathering, champagne was poured, canapés passed around and the residents of the 3rd communed…in the spirit of wine, men, women and song.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]

P.S. Hughes Reiner will be conducting this same orchestra again on Thursday, February 12th, 8:30 p.m. at the Cathédrale Sainte-Croix des Armeniens Catholiques, 6, rue Charlot, 3rd, Métro Saint-Sébastien-Froissart. For more information, visit


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