Tuesday, February 08, 2005

when is a lilac not a lilac?

A week in Paris is simply unaffordable for most people and, being of this caste, on day 5 we realized that, though inspired by Braque and his copains, we were utterly broke.
There were to be four performances in the banlieus of Paris to fund a thousand tempting brasseries. The evening of our performance in Les Lilas, however, saw Julian and I drinking a bottle of sauvignon in the Beaubourg roof restaurant as I had been laid off the gig.

My colleague had been outraged (rightly, I think) that I had been booked on the night of single strings, not he, and had gone to the authorities to complain. It was a shame as I have to admit that I was looking forward to my bijoux solo moment, especially as the comps were lined up for friends and family. The moment would, of course, have been marvellous, leading to an infinite number of glamorous bookings in the future, but it was not to be. So, as we sat in the rude red orificial stamens of the cafe watching Parisians come home from work and lights twinkling on one by one around us, I was glad for an evening off with my beloved in this city of chansons, where we too dream on.
On day 7, after a last straw two cafe au laits near St Germain costing a mammonth 13 euros we were over budget, tense and argumentative and ready to leave Paris for Madrid. There, a delicious breakfast of caffe con leche, fresh orange juice and pastries for two in one of the oldest bars on the Plaza Santa Ana cost a blessed 6 euros. As we indulged in the obligatory tapas crawl that night we realized that it was not only a cheap city to have fun, but that the people are so much less up their own arses than in France. And England. We breathed deeper, laughed more and, as so many before us have done, we planned our imminent to move to Spain.
Our continuing whistlestop tour of European art was crowned for me by a ravishing Cezanne at the Thyssen Museum; a painting of his gardener which, if we were talking Gabrielle Roth's five archetypal dance rhythms, would encompass them all: The cross flow of branch to toe, the stillness of the resting pose, the staccato of the brush-stroke.... I stood in it's presence and felt replenished.
Gastronomic highlights included the above breakfast, twice, a big tapas of jamon and quails eggs which came free with artisanal beer in a dive, followed by foie gras with quince jelly tapas accompanying a superb crianza in the posh wine bar next door. Also, a wonderful dance of chickens and bulls between the waitress and Julian as we tried to decipher the menu in a pretty rough restaurant recommended (not quite sure why- Julian suggests it was a practical joke) by many musician friends of mine. To finish, as if to tempt us back to France, we had the worst sandwich of our lives: Colorless, rigormortissed and wrapped firmly in plastic, it looked like the bar owners had taken lessons from a seventies British Rail catering company. I was looking forward to a baguette.

Madrid is weird too; somehow third worldly. As the sales were on, the shop's lead windows sported models wearing only big blonde hair and plastic bags. There were slipper shops and museums of ham, shops selling only musty bullfighting jackets or glittering knives, and many old boutiques selling very nasty material in various shades of brown and pink.
At the Casa Pata, the Flamenco bar where we spent our last evening, the reason for the latter became apparent in the selection of badly fitted and artisanally sewn frilly gowns the female dancer rouched up her leg. The male dancers, meanwhile, with their shoulder length greased ringlets seemed to be having identity crises, tapping somewhere between Temple and Travolta. However, the guitar playing was inventive (despite more yukky greased ringlets) and the singers appropriately gutsy in their lamenting. It was a touchingly imperfect end to a perfect weekend.
On the plane to Madrid I had realized I had cocked up and that on our return journey we simply did not have enough time to get from our arrival in Paris Orly, to our departure from Gare de Lyon - via Rue St Martin (in which we had to pick up luggage, keys and a cello). We were determined to make it however and, like two of the famous five, we hatched a meticulous plan to succeed in the impossible hundred minutes available. Though the plan was foolproof technically, involving Julian leaving the plane unencumbered by my slow moving bottom and doing the baggage pick up solo, time would be ticking by right from the minute the plane landed and it had to run smoothly if it was to work. I was to be a good Buddhist about the whole thing, and Julian was sure that Oscar was at home pulling strings for us in heaven.
Indeed he was, and I managed to spend one welcome night at home before the morning train took me to the Alps for the next leg of the tour.


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