A surprise in Châtelet

A word to the wise: don’t, under any circumstances, if you can at all avoid it, unless your idea of a good time is forgetting what the outside world looks like… use the Châtelet métro stop in Paris. It’s an endless labyrinth of interlaced corridors that go on and on and on–so that you’ll swear you’ve already walked farther than you’re even going to go on the blasted métro (if you ever get to it). And you might be right.

Five métro lines intersect down there and you can also connect to three different RER lines at the Châtelet-Les Halles station (which is technically a distinct station from the métro stop, and is the largest underground train station in the world), that is, if you’re willing to put in the steps.

But sometimes it’s more work to avoid it. And sometimes–like today–it’s nice to get out of the rain. And sometimes, you’re rewarded with something unexpected.

I’ve posted before about the music scene on the métro, both on the trains and in the stations. Today we enjoyed something special:

Four violins. One viola. Two cellos. And some nice resonance in the tunnels. I usually avoid Châtelet; today I’m glad I passed through.

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Music on the métro

After yesterday’s account of a mugging on the métro, how about a happier story today. Yes? Okay. Cue the music…

It’s not uncommon to hear musicians on the métro. Both on board and in the tunnels. On the line 6 we get plenty of accordion players (all playing the same five songs), often accompanied by little karaoke rigs blaring out their back-up tracks. For me, the novelty has pretty much worn off. But there are musicians we do enjoy hearing.

Like the soprano sax player who often plays unaccompanied in the evenings at the Charles de Gaulle Étoile station where we catch the 6 to get home. Some good resonance there for his sultry renditions of mellow soul hits from the 70s, like “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (the guy really digs that one–and he plays it well).

Or the young guy with the low-slung guitar on the line 2 late at night when Carolyn and I were coming home from the Simple Minds concert a week after the Paris attacks (yes, at the venue where they recorded their live album back in the day—gotta relive the 80s when I get the chance!).

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Usually people barely acknowledge the musicians and try not to make eye-contact when they walk up and down the aisle with their cup held out for spare change. But that guy had the whole car singing along, taking pictures (like me), capturing some video (like the woman in the picture), and even crossing the length of the car to give him money. Are you kidding me? You definitely don’t see that every day.

This morning, two older, vaguely Spanish-looking guys got on (just a guess—there are people from all over the world on the métro, and these guys didn’t look or sound particularly French) and made their little announcement they they were going to entertain us and hoped for some coins. Some of the buskers will say this kind of thing before they get started, others just get on and crank up their accordion without any introduction. Now, they’d gotten on behind me, and at first I didn’t turn around. But then they started playing.

First off, it was something other than the usual: clarinet accompanied by guitar. Nice. And second: they were good. The clarinetist’s fingers must have been smoking, the keys melting, he had so many notes blazing out of that thing. (The last time I heard such a flurry of notes from a woodwind was at a jazz festival in the 80s with Kenny G, who never plays five notes when he can play a hundred-and-five.) But more than that—it was tasteful. Not just an athletic display of virtuosity, it was musical. And the guitarist was keeping up with his friend, strumming away on his Glen Hansard-esque, almost-worn-through-the-soundboard classical guitar.

When the clarinetist came by with his paper cup, I gladly fished through my pocket for some change for these guys who’d definitely livened up the quiet ride to the Opéra stop.

Yesterday I saw a mugging on the métro. Thankfully, what I saw today is much more common. Granted, it’s usually the accordion guys, not Spanish Kenny G trading his sax for a clarinet, but that’s okay.