Bagneux, Paris again; bliss! There I can breathe, and revelled in kicking through giant autumn leaves heaped up on the wide pavements.
Place des Abbesses, Montmartre - 1st November 2014
My Polish violinist friend, Peter is laid to rest in Montmartre Cemetery. He died in May 2012 and every time I'm in Paris I visit his grave and talk to him out loud as if he's sat before me. It's usually a very peaceful spot but today lots of people were milling around tending to flowers on the ancient-looking gravestones and I saw no black cats or kittens - one of whom usually leads me to Peter because I can never quite remember where he is (the cemetery is enormous).
Peter had just had another visitor (two lit candles had not long ago been placed on top of his grave), which Nuna Kurek (Peter's partner), told me had been put there by her daughter, Marta. I let Peter know that my life is a mess right now regarding some of my close relationships and that for the first time I feel tired of busking and of being a musician. I received no 'signs' from him as I normally do, apart from a strong feeling that he would like Nuna and I to continue to be friends.
Straight after seeing Peter I busked Scottish and Irish folk fiddle (Irish tunes from a book of Peter's that Nuna gave me) under the protective arms of the tree opposite Le Saint Jean at Place des Abbesses. Peter and I often used to perform here together, where I play to honour his memory as much as to earn a bit of food money.
I felt very freeing playing in the open air again after months of playing underground, with the setting sun lighting up the wood of my violin a rich red-brown. Mothers and their children listened attentively and gave generously; a brown-eyed old gentleman gave me two euros and looked puzzled when I thanked him in English; a Frenchman with kinked mousy hair commented, "Le violon, c'est dur... Félicitations!" (in English: "The violin, it's hard... Congratulations!") In my exhausted state, I expected nobody to be interested in busking anymore - as seems to be the case in London right now, but just getting out and playing is what it's all about and I did just that.
Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves - 2nd November 2014
Yesterday I picked up a leaflet about the weekend market - Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves as I was walking near Pont de la Concorde and decided to pay it a visit this crisp Sunday morning. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy despite the place being jam-packed with characterful locals. One man asked if it was a violin I was carrying. I replied that it was and that I would like to play here (remembering that Peter had recommended busking at Parisian markets). He said that I could play here because there are no police - and then two policemen walked towards me and politely told me that busking here is forbidden but that they would have enjoyed hearing me play.
Pigalle Métro station and Chez Adel - 3rd November 2014
Enlivened by having improvised raga on violin with famous Indian tablaist, Rizwan Foga at his home in Montreuil and by seeing my dear friend, Nuna Kurek for a smoke and a chat under the bridge on Canal Saint-Martin where Peter died, I set off for the busking spot I found when I was here in July; deep in the corridors of Pigalle Métro station.
One is supposed to audition and obtain a license to busk on the Paris Métro and I've tried countless times to do so; even going all the way to the RATP office in person to get an application form only to be turned away at the door because I was supposed to have written a letter?! Any attempt to contact the correct people via the Internet has failed, too. I've learnt through experience, though, that it is possible to get away with playing down here so long as there is no trouble.
Busking - especially in Paris, is not for the faint-hearted: In the July heat it stank of human excrement here to the point that even though the money was good I had to pack up and leave before I was sick! This time, though, it was a lot cooler with a breeze blowing through and thankfully no smell. There were no annoying, loud, station announcements and a mob of police walked by twice and didn't bother me. In London as an 'illegal' busker, I'd have been threatened with arrest and my instrument confiscated just for wanting to earn an honest living as a busker, but in Paris they're less soulless, stupid and aggressive.
Passersby weren't very interested, generally, in what I was doing, though a man took my business card and a French lady said that she liked my music and asked me about any gigs I might have coming up in either Paris or in London. A young guy rudely videoed me for what seemed like ages without asking my permission or making a donation (grrrr!), but I took the opportunity to record myself: From time to time I find it useful to listen back to myself playing in an attempt to correct any mistakes I might hear.
Chez Adel in the 10th arrondissement is my favourite bar and I've been performing there with bands and as a soloist on and off for about four years now. I suspect that there is nowhere else in the world quite like it with its eccentricities and colourful customers trooping in and out - some of whom have become good friends of mine. The owner, Adel, is a sweetheart and extremely dedicated to his business.
Playing at Chez Adel is a little like busking as musicians perform in exchange for food and drink and are permitted to put the hat around. Today, Adel made me a hot chocolate as soon as I arrived, and I played my folk fiddle set for him, during which time I videoed myself (much to Adel's amusement). In exchange, Adel gave me a pint of orange juice, lentil soup and his special sauce. On 5th November I enjoyed accompanying my friend; guitarist and singer-songwriter, Claudio Zaretti on violin as we played songs from his most recent album, Deux Diamants.
Pigalle Métro station - 4th November 2014
I love the 'café culture' in Paris, and this morning I treated myself to a milky coffee and cheese sandwich from Le Brazza in Bagneux. Today's folk fiddle busking session at Pigalle Métro paid for this. I was grateful to be able to keep myself (and my fingers) out of the cold down here. An older lady with bright red lipstick said something in French which I took to mean that I'd do well playing this folk-type of music - indeed a couple of people dropped some euros in my case, shouting,"Bravo!" as they did so.