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Posts Tagged ‘The Musicality of Plastic Bags’

I suppose the title of this post needs some sort of explanation.

You see, I was on my way to school this morning — courtesy of my wonderful new metro Navigo Pass! — and I was two stops away from the station closest to Sciences Po, when suddenly, one of the ubiquitous Parisian metro hustlers started in on his personal version of the same spiel.

There are a variety of approaches to the Parisian metro hustling gig. Some players have a loud monologue they recite, often with great intonation, rhyming schemes and theatricality, telling of their money problems and difficult lives and asking the passengers politely for a little help in the form of money. Others actually play music, be it the accordion, the guitar or the pan flute, playing for a small amount of time and then wandering around the car, thanking anyone who donates to their personal charity of one.

(It is worth noting that this second example can’t help but make me think of my time as a Coldstone Creamery Ice Cream Scooper Extraordinaire, when we would sing for tips but more often got tipped to NOT sing, much to the added benefit and pleasure of everyone involved)

I’ve even seen a puppet show — that guy may just have wanted to do a puppet show on the metro to see if he could, I didn’t see any ostentatious hat or collection bin, and he was really, really into his puppet thing — and one guy the other day asked all the women on the car to marry him, praising his qualities as a potential husband and passing out his cellphone for people’s numbers. When no one accepted his hand in marriage, he asked for financial backing for his fledging career as a stand up comic. He was actually pretty funny, I must say,  but I still didn’t give him money. I don’t have enough to give.

But this morning’s metro hustler was so delightfully odd that everyone on the normally stoic and serious metro couldn’t help but smile, and it really put me into a good mood that lasted the whole day.

This guy, probably in late 50s or 60s, in a traditional, make-shift homeless guy ensemble, came on the car and announced that he was going to share a gift with all of us — his musical gift — and he only hoped we could be appropriately thankful afterwards. But he didn’t seem to have any instrument readily available. What would he do?

Then, holding up a plastic shopping bag — which aren’t illegal here like in Germany — he declared, completely deadpan, “Et maintenant, la musique de le sac en plastique,” or “And now, music of the plastic bag”. He then proceeded to play some sort of improvised mouth-harp-harmonica thing, amplified and transformed by the limits of the grocery bag he placed over and around it.

The song he played — some romantic, French-sounding number — was rendered comically brilliant by his plastic bag. No one knew what to do. Some people glared, as they are wont to do on the metro when the hustlers get hoping, but after a certain point, the complete earnestness in which this little old man went at that plastic bag made everyone chuckle quietly to themselves and exchange glances, as if to say, “Yes, together we are experiencing the hidden musical sounds of the plastic grocery bag. How perfectly charming and altogether unexpected.”

This adventure put a positive spin on my day that just kept on humming. I started my French language class today, which terrified me at first. I’m in the fourth and highest level of French language instruction here — a classification arbitrarily chosen literally by looking at a chart online and deciding that I would be okay in this level — and I’ve heard tell that level four is scary.

But it wasn’t. My professor, a little, lovely French-Swiss lady, is absolutely wonderful and a true delight, and the class is full of interesting people from a diverse set of backgrounds — several Americans, several Germans, a Brazilian, an Italian, a Mexican, a Norwegian, a Brit — making French really the only language all of us can truly communicate in.

The course will be just as I wanted it to be — a book read as a group, presentations on daily news items we find interesting, a few creative essays — basically just a bunch of Francophiles hanging out and loving on the French language. We are also having a dinner at the end of the term at one of the student’s apartments, where everyone, including the professor, brings a traditional dish from their family’s menu and shares with everyone else. The professor promised to bring wine, cheese and bread, like any good French woman.

Feeling positively cheery, I successfully ate lunch while walking and drinking a coffee and made it to my next class, again on the top floor of the main campus building in the same room, yet accessed by a door suggesting it was a different room. Yes, this was confusing as it sounds.

The class, a large lecture on Media and the political will that controls and influences it, looks to be really interesting. Even on the first day, when we had a basic overview of the theoretical underpinnings of the course, we began a fascinating discussion on whether or not the press was free in China — it isn’t, of course — brought on by a Chinese student’s insistence that the professor’s suggestion of murdered journalists in China was perhaps an exaggeration.

I then returned home, lazed about, had some tea, went on a nice run at Parc des Buttes Chaumont — quickly becoming one of my favorite places here — in the rain, and then went to the farmer’s market to buy some potatoes and other veggies for my winter veggie roast.

It was frustrating when I couldn’t properly ask for sweet potatoes — a word which I thought I knew but the man behind the stall did not, prompting his descent into English (Just because I don’t know all the vegetable names, doesn’t mean I don’t speak your language at an adequate level, buddy. I’m in level four, after all, you know) — but I managed to get some good chèvre and make a truly filing and warm sweet potato, tuber, onion, garlic, herb and cheese bowl for supper, complete with a fresh baguette. I truly do need to cook more elaborate meals like this one, because I’m now prepared to go to sleep happy and full for the first time in a while.

Tomorrow, a reporting class, leftovers from tonight’s dinner (!) and perhaps a visit to the Cinema Action-Ecoles with my dinner party gang, where we hope to see “Cabaret.”

But things — besides my finances — are looking up.

And besides, if I really need money, I know about the musicality of plastic bags now. So I’ve got that going for me.

PS Also saw two men peeing in public today on my way back from the market, making the total of Public Parisian Pees now 7. I will continue to keep a running tally, as I do not think these two fine gentlemen will the last I will see relieving themselves in public.

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