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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Metro Performances

As my last few blogs have been on fairly serious topics, I felt that it's about time for me to lighten up a little for this entry.

If you have ever visited Paris and rode on the metro here, you have probably encountered some sort of performance while en route to your destination. Whether it be some guy playing the accordion or a beggar unemotionally reciting the same tired speech that they will say hundreds of times per week, Parisians just accept these performances as part of the commute. Every now and then, an old lady or someone in military regalia will give some pocket change to a metro performer, but for the most part, the only people who pay attention to these speeches/songs are those that haven't seen them before- mainly the out of town folk.

Around 19 out of 20 metro performances that I happen to see are nothing spectacular. The most common one seen is a guy that plays an accordion, usually plays two half-assed songs, gets out his paper cup for tips, and moves on to the next car. Usually there is an Edith Piaf song included. Another common instrument used to seduce the metro passengers is the guitar. No matter what, almost everyone of them plays Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba". I actually learned the lyrics to that song just from hearing it so often when heading to work.

Every now and then, someone will hop on the metro with this boombox and a microphone, complete with a paper tip cup duct taped to the stand. The amp will almost always have some distortion effect turned on so that it causes an echo when the person sings. This is used to mask the fact that the singer actually sucks at singing. Some guys come on with a ghetto-blaster and try to rap over some beat where the stereo is turned up so loud that you can't even hear what they are saying. I don't think I have ever seen the rappers make any money, but since I seem them all the time on Line 4, they must be making enough to justify annoying the hell out of 99.9% of passengers in the car.

Perhaps as common as musical performances on the metro are performances by beggars. Usually they say the same line, and honestly, they don't put a lot of effort into it. I can't blame them as they probably spend most of their day saying the same couple of lines dozens, maybe even hundreds of times. Those that want to give them money will give them money. Most people avoid eye contact as soon as these guys step on the metro, just to show that they aren't going to pull out their coins for anybody. I remember one time when a kid about my age got on and started yelling a speech. At first I thought he was begging, but then after 5 minutes where he was still screaming while barely stopping for a breath. After 10 minutes of this, I decided he was probably crazy and got on the next car so I could get back to reading my book.

Over the last couple of years, there have been a few performances that have stood out to me, where I was even tempted to give out a little change.

-There were these two guys from South America who came on and played the guitar (one smaller than the other, so it had higher notes), and simultaneously played an andean pan flute called a siku, and these were hung by strings around their necks. They also had incredible voices. Pretty much everyone stopped what they were doing to listen to them. If I wasn't paying so much attention to their music, I probably would have given them my whole wallet.

-When a friend and I were coming back from a tour, a guy steps on the metro with a guitar and introduces himself. He seems pretty typical of most people that do this- but anyway, he starts out strumming the guitar pretty well. Then he just screams. No words whatsoever. He was even making spitting noises (like putting your tongue between your lips and blowing really hard). All the while he was still playing the guitar. Everyone was keeled over laughing, and I think he actually got a lot of tips.

-One night when heading home, a father and son duo were playing the accordion and stand-up bass, respectively. The son was maybe 4-5 years old, and he couldn't play very well. However, I gave them a little money because a). it was cute to see him try and his dad seemed happy to be playing with his son and b). it was original and wanted to give a little encouragement. A few months later I saw the the same duo playing on a bench in Montmartre, only this time their instruments were switched. The kid was phenomenal on the accordion. My guess is maybe they made more when he was bad at the instrument which was twice his height as opposed to being good at the accordion. Both times I saw them, plenty of people gave them money.

If you have any stories of metro performances to contribute, because I'm sure there are some good ones that I have never even heard of that would be worthy of including.

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