Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Solstice, Paris Style...

In case you hadn't noticed, I really love this place! Not just for its always fascinating history, the monuments, the size of the city. Nor just for the great neighborhood we live in. Or the great bus routes that run right by our front door, not to mention metro access, literally next door. Or the food, the wine, the cheeses! Even though, yes, the city and the country have problems, just like every place in the world, nonetheless one of the things I love most about being here, and admire greatly, is the "institutional" support for the arts and culture, that makes life just a bit more pleasant for everyone.

You have to pay to go to a lot of museums here, like the Musée d'Orsay, for instance, where the current Manet exhibition is packing in the audiences by the thousands.  But what happens when the Musée d’Orsay closes their impressionist gallery for renovation? Well, the paintings can be lent to other establishments while work is going on! And, voilà, a new exhibition, Paris at the Time of the Impressionists makes its welcome appearance at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). But, unlike the Musée d'Orsay, admission at the Hôtel de Ville is free! And with two large exhibition spaces, we've also thoroughly enjoyed exhibitions there about the history of the Paris Commune in the 1870s and, currently, one on role of the literary world during the Occupation of France during WWII.

Right now, the area in front of the Hôtel de Ville has been transformed into "un jardin éphémère". For just three or four weeks, sparkling green lawns have been installed, surrounded by rows and rows of trees, providing a beautiful early summer retreat from the hustle and bustle and noise of the city.

I can wander through this temporary "forest", identifying the trees, or I can sit on a bench and watch the world pass by, and give a little vote of thanks to Mayor Delanoë for making this part of Paris a prettier place.

It's not always city government that provides these niceties for the populace, though. This past week, underwritten by various corporations, cinemas have been offering movie admissions at their theatres for just 3 euros, instead of the usual 11 euros and up. Alas, the dearth of good movies kept us from taking advantage of this offer!

I guess the bottom line here is that people in France pay a lot of taxes, but the revenue doesn't all go to making sure the transportation works and that you get good medical care (both of which are true).  A fair amount also goes to improving the quality of life for citizens, be it free admission to museums, an ephemeral garden in the city centre, the Paris Plage that goes up each July and August along the banks of the River Seine, etc. etc.

 All of this largesse struck me most forcibly this past June 21st, summer solstice. No witches or coven rituals here, but an extraordinary outpouring of music that filled the streets of Paris and cities throughout the country, continuing way into the wee small hours of the night.

In Paris, under the direction of city hall and le ministère de la culture et de la communication, official musical events were offered at major sites, such as at the Louvre, where Neeme Järvi conducted l'Orchestre de Paris, or at the Musée d'Orsay, where Kurt Masur directed the Orchestre National de France.

But it wasn't just classical offerings. Jazz, World Music, Pop, Rock, Electro, Blues, Folk: if it was music, you could hear it that night!

In our 2nd arrondissement, we spent a lovely afternoon hour in an auditorium at the Passage Colbert, listening to young pianists perform Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Scriabine and Brahms.

Outside, near the Mairie, stages were being set up, mixing boards configured, ready for a staggeringly loud rock concert later in the evening...

...when the little square was jam-packed with happy music lovers

As well as the "big" musical offerings, I just loved some of the "local" concerts that were springing up on almost every street.

 On the rue Bachaumont, around the corner from our flat, a group of young flautists played their hearts out for almost 45 minutes, their teacher sitting on the ground in front of them, conducting, and the proud parents, and passers-by, completely charmed by the scene, and by the music!

And right outside my butcher on rue Montorgeuil, a young lad belted out Jimi Hendrix songs, whilst his buddies looked on, and one of them fiddled with the pre-amp to keep the volume UP!

Meanwhile, over at St. Sulpice, on the Left Bank, these three young people had the musicians all to themselves, for a while.

As night began to fall, Matthew and I went out again, and found a group of musicians performing French folk songs behind the venerable Église St. Eustache, with the audience (lyrics in hand) happily singing along.

Elsewhere, musicians took their places on street corners, and outside cafés, where diners cheered them on....

...and this couple gave a great swing dance demo. My feet were tapping!

As we wandered back home, with the sky still tinged with daylight at 11 pm!, we passed through the Place des Victoires, with its imposing statue of Louis XIV on horseback. I wondered if he and his royal court celebrated the summer solstice with musical fêtes at Versailles, and whether he would bestow his approval on the City of Paris for providing this glorious night of music for its citizens -- a gift that celebrated its 30th anniversary this year!

With our stay here suddenly rapidly coming to an end -- the fastest six months ever! -- alas, it's time, with this post, for me to close the blog for this year, and bid you all a most fond adieu. Thank you for following our various adventures, and for writing comments, and for sending me emails. Be sure and tune in for the next round in January 2012!

Au revoir!

1 comment:

  1. Amd so ends another half-year of glorious descriptions, transporting me to a Paris that I never knew but am coming to know and love. Thank you, Mrs R. Ytf, Mrs L xxx