Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Paris Adventures Part Two (I'm not gonna be one of those guys who writes Part Deux, ok?)
Technical difficulties delayed last week's post but double post this week to make up for it!
So I left off last time reminiscing about a dinner I had with a couple from Taiwan, living in Paris. They busted out their fiddle and piano skills and we had a good time jamming. The dinner conversation was also amazing. Usually when I talk to people in Taiwan they can throw in some English words once in awhile, and enjoy doing so to spice up the conversation. But I quickly found that most of the native Chinese speakers I met across Europe had had their English skills absolutely obliterated by their required fluency in this third language, be it French or, later in my travels, German. The only exceptions to this obliteration of previously learned languages are Italian music words like mezzo forte.
The dinner was repeated the next week but this time they invited a dizi player to come too. He told me that he performed with a dance troupe, but besides his part, all of the instrument sounds in the dance music were not only prerecorded, but synthesized. He was very religious, enough so that for reasons I never figured out, he could not eat the cake I brought for dessert. He played dizi, shao, and hulusi pieces which I recorded and will post as soon as someone shows me what it is that I'm doing wrong that it takes over 24 hours to download a single video. I'm so helpless with technology :( After one of the hosts spontaneously accompanied him on the piano, the meal concluded with more political talk which a second glass of wine made me too sleepy to follow.
So in Paris I had found Chinese musicians who teach individuals to play by themselves. Their motives being the continuation of tradition. I had also found a musician and dancers who perform for Buddhist ceremonies and holidays. But playing flute over electronic music, despite its Buddhist routes still lacked that sense of community I was hoping for where people play together, where music acts as a form of communication.
A talk with an ethnomusicologist at Paris 8 University (which is the right translation for that University even though it sounds like 123 Fake Street) told me that this is really all I could hope to find in Paris. She suspected, but had no statistics to confirm, that Chinese in Paris were more likely to be musicians than the general population of China or Taiwan, but that the types of people who uproot and move here aren't really the kind that play in a community. Chinese who play Classical music, those are the ones that form communities. The Chinese music playeres are loners and weirdos. I suggested independent as a better term. The ethnomusicologist in question was born in the Mainland but moved to Paris when she was just 4 years old and studied Renaissance music in order to create historically informed performances. Our conversation was held in English. I decided that I didn't like her attitude about Chinese immigrants.
THE Julia Weisman!
Before abandoning Paris for a different location, I was visited by my fellow Carl, Julia Weisman! She is teaching English (isn't everybody?) to Elementary Schoolers in St. Dié (thus the amazing title of her blog, St. Die Another Day). But on Saturday she took the morning train to Paris and met me at the metro stop in Chinatown. Tree also joined us as I was to follow him back to his Rock and Jazz School in Freiburg to take some classes and have free housing in a centrally located spot while I figured out what to do next. The three of us had a blast as we bumbled around Paris together.
We first went to Tree's FAAAAVORITE restaurant in Europe. It's in Little Tokyo and the waiters always think that Tree is Japanese and tell him stuff which he doesn't understand. Sometimes I understand the basic stuff and translate to Chinese for him which sufficiently confuses everyone. But we had Julia with us today which meant that we had a French translator! I marveled as Julia ordered and effortlessly produced voiceless uvular fricatives and spewed non-aspirated voiceless plosives with convincing French nonchalance.
After we walked off our giant steaming bowls of ramen (which absolutely hit the spot after walking around in the chilly Parisian weather), we found ourselves in front of the main goal of the day (besides having fun and eating good food, of course). The goal was a store called Thanksgiving. There Julia was going to buy some final ingredients to create her Thanksgiving meal. I also wanted to go to buy Jiffy instant corn bread muffin mix because after 5 months abroad that was what I missed most. There were lots of other tempting things like cans of refried beans and tortillas. When asked what I miss most about home, I always swiftly reply Mexican food. People think I'm kidding and I'm just covering for a more serious answer like family or friends or my house but in all honesty I miss Mexican food the most. Tobasco, chili pepper and cheese are just not tastes you can get easily in Taiwan or Europe. Besides, friends and family can send me emails and keep in touch. Mexican food cannot.
Since a can of beans is about 5 euros I pass on my plans of a Mexican Thanksgiving and just stick with my muffin mix. Julia told me she too was shocked at the prices. "How can they charge 9 euros for a small bag of Ree C's Pee C's?" "You mean Reese's Pieces? Why the hell do you say it like that? It sounds like feces." She claims that I am wrong and that the original Reese pronounced his name utilizing two syllables. I maintain however that it is better to not say it right and avoid the acoustic reminder of excrement. Just like how that wench changed her name in Robin Hood: Men in Tights to the French-sounding Latrine from the original more Germanic, Shithouse.
Speaking of which, it is impossible to use a toilet in Europe for free. Restaurants and cafes have codes that are switched up more frequently than vault codes in banks. When you gotta go and you're just walking around town, it might cost you a 5 euro coffee to get in there. But hey when you gotta go. . . Sometimes I've played up the dumb foreigner act and just charged in jumping and clutching at my groin. This usually does the trick in smaller shops since they would prefer to let me urinate for free in the doobluh-vay-say than to have to clean up the mess themselves. But for larger places like McDonalds, the jump 'n' clutch doesn't cut it. Okay, end of tangent.
Hunched Over at Quasimodo's
After resting our feet in the only free seating we could find, Notre Dame, the three of us decided we needed food! We wandered through all of Chinatown until Tree had found us a satisfactory place. I like Chinatown in Paris because it seems to be mainly Mandarin speakers so I can use Chinese and not have to worry about stupid French. After very authentic stinky toufu, kungpao chicken, spicy fragrant eggplant, and egg drop soup, we went to see RED which was the only movie we could find that wasn't playing in French. The movie theater turned out to be in a really amazing walkway with festive lights hanging over our heads. Photo op! Again Paris is disgustingly beautiful.
Apparently I look super confident or probably just approachable or something because on our walk home multiple people approached me specifically and asked me for directions. I usually don't have any idea where I am and just always leave 3 extra hours to get lost, so the fact that someone mistook me for a competent navigator struck my companions and me as hilarious. Oddly though, the person who knows Paris the best is Tree, since he is a competent navigator and has visited many times while studying in Germany. So when a lady asked in French how to get somewhere, Julia translated to English, I translated to Chinese, Tree thought for a moment, told me in Chinese, I told Julia in English, Julia translated to French. I seriously doubt that the end directions were accurate, but at least we all felt useful and good about ourselves for out intended benevolence.
Crossing the Rubicon
We all crashed in a hotel room that night until our morning trains to St. Die for Julia, and Freiburg, Germany for Tree and me. Julia left before Tree and I woke up and just left a note on the bedstand. On the bedstand. Like a hooker. Why Julia, why? According to the note she is not big on good byes.
In any case, after recharging my batteries on pastries and wine, I felt ready to tackle more of Europe and to actually play music instead of just talking about it. And finally after leaving Paris this happened. Coming up in the next post: My completely unbelievable adventures with Mongolian Throat singers/Rock banders Hanggai!