During several visits to Paris, we stayed in the trendy arrondissements – the little numbers. We ran the gamut from one to seven before stopping at seven and staying there several times. In each place, we encountered street performances; singers, strummers, and jugglers. One of my favorites was a ragtime band on Saint-Germain-des-Pres. I especially loved the guy with the long hair, reflection sunglasses and metallic fingernails who played the washboard.
But the best entertainment venue, and the most reliable, is on the pedestrian bridge which connects Ile Saint-Louis to Ile de la Cite directly behind Notre Dame. These acts rival the best anywhere – the creme de la creme of street entertainment.
We generally stop. Yet, I am one of those people who bounce up just before the end of the act, “C’mon guys. We’re late. Gotta run.” You see, I never believed I should pay someone I didn’t invite to entertain me. I am not proud to admit this, but from observation, I am very much not alone.
One evening, Pat and I walked up to the Parc de Belleville beyond the furthest reaches of the 11th district and into the 20th. Pat ventures up there nearly every night to shoot street scenes. We have discovered that at the top of the park there is an amphitheater where the street performers of Paris practice. Kids sprawl out in the theater to watch; we join them. There is no expectation of tips, no hat placed at the front of the act. This is practice – and it lasts for hours.
Pat waits to talk with the juggler. He points to one of the many concrete housing complexes surrounding the park, “I live right there.” He cautions Pat against bringing his camera to the park after dark, “Though this is a very safe neighborhood, there are a lot of drug dealers.” We have never seen a drug dealer, but Pat returns home before dark – not challenging during late June in Paris.
One Saturday evening, Pat headed up to Belleville as always right after dinner. The juggler was putting on a show for the neighborhood. Afterwards, young jugglers took to the stage under his tutelage. The amphitheater transformed into a juggler’s university. Pat captured the photo at the top of this blog – one of my all time favorite shots. We laughed about the craziness of life; the fact that we now live where the jugglers live. I have grown inordinately fond of jugglers.
This particular juggler’s assistant told Pat that he entertains all over France and even into other countries in Europe. He is, in the juggler universe, a star. Here, on his home turf, he is not a showman. We have learned he is a husband and father who happens to pay the bills through juggling. He shared with Pat that he is up here most days practicing. I am inspired by his skill and his work effort.
Currently, he is mastering a trick where he hula hoops, juggles with one hand, and spins a basketball on the tip of the index finger of the other all while balancing a bowling pin on his nose. He can keep this up for perhaps 30 seconds but not long enough to incorporate this trick into the act. He repeats his efforts over and over and over, shouting in frustration as the pins hit the ground.
We love our neighborhood. I prefer living where the jugglers live. Here, few are jaded by the demands of tourism. People engage us; they wonder who the Americans are who keep coming back. Friday night we ate out in a wonderful new restaurant near our apartment. Every server came over to introduce themselves and engage us in conversation.
Our daughter, Taylor, arrived Friday. Yesterday we walked the city from end to end. At the bridge behind Notre Dame, a street juggler was setting up his act. “Taylor, let’s watch this. Grab a seat on the curb.” Pat backed away and shot pictures for ten minutes.
The people next to us jumped up and left just before the end of the show but we did not follow. I dug five euros in change from the bottom of my purse – an amount which seemed fair for three people. After the show, I asked if he ever juggled at Belleville Park. “That’s where I learned,” he smiled. “Now, I juggle for Cirque du Soleil. I’m leaving for Boston soon.” Before he goes, Pat is going to photograph a performance and provide photos for the juggler’s website.
As I related this story to a new friend, she laughed, “That’s a lot cheaper than three Cirque du Soleil tickets.” She read my mind. And frankly, it was a whole lot more fulfilling
My blog writing has slowed and it will stay that way for a while. In the last ten days, Pat and I spent four days in Lyon, I flew back to the US to attend a funeral and handle an estate, and our daughter joined us for ten days in Paris. Suffice it to say, I’m distracted.
I still have a pile of pre-reading for my class and am trying to develop a good first pass of three different articles I want to progress over the course of the workshop. The more I write, the less I know what direction I will head. As of this moment, I am thinking of a book. Next week, I will shift to travel literature. And the following, I will decide the haiku path is my calling.
It’s troubling to be so confused about my career path at the age of 57. But be patient, please. I will be back!
Categories: A year in Paris