By the way, do not believe when some travel blogs tell you not to bring shorts and flipflops to Europe because that'd be a tell that you're a tourist. Stop it, they can tell no matter what. You cannot fake it. Also, what if you look like a tourist? Why fake who you are? There's no insider deal you get because you dress differently from the guided tour group.
Down by the metro station, I stumble onto a sizeable farmers market. Clothing, produce, meat product, lots of seafood. Super crowded. Again, THIS is my kind of hood. I keep waking against the current of humans like a salmon on the egg-laying journey, pick up a small bite called brick, essentially a handmade hot pocket with potato, cheese, onions and some meat inside, fresh off the hot plate. I also grab a quesadilla-like cousin of brick (the name of which escapes me) that has shrimp inside, another delight. Both runs you about 2 euros each, can't be beat.
A sweaty excursion continues into the 9th (nearby Moulin Rouge), a row of independent music stores where Danimal and I failed to catch them open a day before. Soon I learn that they all close their storefront at 2pm for lunch. One merchant; "We're French. We like to take lunch. LONG lunch." 👏 The guy also tells me that almost everyone on the street knows each other and likes to lunch together, keeping all the store hours in line. An attitude like this might be keeping retails in this part of the world healthy; music retails in Europe in general seem much healthier than US, so do their stock. Along with behemoths like Gibson, Fender and Roland etc, smaller European boutique brands like Waldorf, Doepfer, Duesenberg etc have a decent presence, which might be a change in a few years, but I'm crossing fingers.
What time is it? Laundry time. Walk downhill a block to a laundromat, throw my load in and hit up a café on the corner for a 2.20 glass of cold one. Back to the laundromat, a few pieces are still wet so a few extra minutes of dry, back to the said café for another glass. A gentleman who sits at a bar chuckles at the sight of me coming back, and this is how I meet Sam; a Lebanese-native who commutes to Paris from Grenoble weekly, a newly-wed. He gives me some insights on Paris, including how expensive his tiny pad is (which sounds comparable to LA price) a brief French lesson and a meat-and-cheese plate consist of ham, salami, a small salad and Gouda, fromage and fois-gras of cheese, camanbert. As you go up the ladder of cheese intensity, more beers start to flow. Barkeeps that seemed initially standoff-ish loosen up and start asking questions; how old are you? Is Los Angeles an exciting place as it is in films? Are you Japanese or American? Neither, I answer.
None of these conversations and encounters would've happened had I not come down for Laundry by myself. Sam also told me that the park nearby, Buttes-Chaumont which is within minutes walk from me is def worth a visit, so I go next morning. Built in Napoleon III era on the land where they used to hang bodies of executed criminals then horse carcasses and a depository for sewage, it now is filled with green hills, waterfalls and an Italian-themed temple that towers over the 19th arrondissement.
Also, Asian kids speaking French = ADORBS
So I come around a corner just about to get home, and I hear crowd chatters and possibly some stringed instruments coming through from a gorgeous garden;
It's six o'clock. It has begun. Fete de la Musique. THE PARTY TIME. The performances are everywhere; the official website that indicates half a dozen are within walking distance from where I am. I'm already ecstatic to just randomly walk into this unplugged jam, then I walk away I am approached by a group of youngsters, maybe about age 6 or 7, with some flyers in hands who realize I don't speak French, so with shy chuckles tells me "It is a concert, here in Belleville! We're gonna play too!" then run away. STUPID ADORBS.
For the rest of the evening I basically walk around Paris rather aimlessly and see the streets of Paris filled with music of every kind; a mediocre Pixies cover band set up in front of Saint-Jacques Tower, Reggae coming LOUD through the speakers that violates the ears of every passer-by, a local Vinnie Colaiuta mixing up a few few odd time signature fills behind some jangling guitar dude, a jazz duo in front of a tiny wine bar hidden in an alley, an African drum circle providing groove to a handful of volunteering dancers led by a pre-teen girl...you get the picture. It is chaotic, overwhelming and fun as hell. There is seemingly no gatekeepers, just direct encounter between performers and their audience. I cherish the sense of liberation to let all of that go and just fucking enjoy whatever. Because at the end of the day, that's what you oughta be doing if you plan to do this for life. Bill Withers taught me that.
Realizing that I've been walking non-stop for hours and starved, I happen to walk by a tiny creperie so I order one with Nutella without really taking in all the options they offer; a few more people walk in while I stuff my face with this sweet delight, and they go for Nutella with coconut powder, cheese with tuna, cheese + chicken + eggs...damn, might need to come back tomorrow. Oh wait, I leave tomorrow.
FUCK. Not even 48 hours ago I was hating this place and now I don't wanna leave. I don't wanna leave. There's just too much to explore in merely days. I'm standing in an uncomfortably tiny hole in the wall watching an old French dude making his apprentice redo a chicken crepe, appreciating noise from the chaotic festivities outside. And of course the flavor. The texture for days.
Alas I do have a train to catch. I decide to head back to Belleville and check this one place out; a run-down cafe with on the corner that I had took notice of earlier in during the day. I just had the feeling and I was right. Crowd is pouring out of the joint into the street, clapping and dancing to a self-looping guitarist and a drummer awkwardly jamming to a pre-recorded beat. There are other places open but I bet THIS is the joint of the hood. I KNEW IT. I walk in and grab a beer, they tell me it's almost the last call which is a surprise especially with the size of the crowd they've got going. Soon I realize the band is finishing up, while people are asking for more. I'm content and proceed to down my 1664. Then they come.
A guy walks in while the other band wraps up their rigs, a megaphone hanging from his shoulder, followed by a saxophonist, a snare drummer, a bass drummer, a French horn, another saxophone. The megaphone man talks to the barkeep, who waves his hand signaling "just go ahead." Or so I assume. The band proceeds to count themselves in, and jubilation ensues. Music-hungry crowd ecstatic, including me. Dancers twirling on the road where cars driving by alarmingly close, none of which stops music lovers from living in this moment, fully engaged. The brass band continues with a fierce rendition of "Hava Nagila," then peaks with their version of JB's "I Feel Good" to which the megaphone man sings ferociously and unintelligibly. Probably my favorite version of it ever.
Am I not welcome here? Who cares.
Soundchaser and a two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. Show me the receipts of your donation to @dwcweb @ltsc.cdc or @la_littletokyo Small Biz Relief Fund and I'll gift any or all of my recordings.