The song of Paris

Isn’t it amazing how hearing a song can take you right back to where you were when you heard it first…or last heard it? I have this amazing snippet of musical memory. I was standing in the street behind Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence and I heard a song coming from a music shop. I wandered in and asked the staff. I would like to think I floated in and had a dreamy look on my face (haha). It was The Sea by Morcheeba. Who knows if my memory is true to reality or not, but the feeling of that memory is so strong, evoking the warm spring day, the market bustling around me, even the smell of the leather bags hanging nearby. I can see it.

But I’m not writing about Italy, am I? I’m supposed to be writing about Paris but you know what? I don’t really have any romantic tales like that about songs heard in Paris. Well, there was the Sade album that makes me cringe when I hear it now. It was on repeat that first night in Phillippe’s apartment. It seemed romantic at the time and technically, yes, it does evoke Paris when I hear it.

There are so many songs that bring to mind my first visit to Paris in 1994 because I played MTV non-stop in my hotel room. I hated coming back to a lonely room so the TV played 24/7. It wasn’t loud but the neighbours probably hated me. The songs that transport me there are Coming Back to Life by Pink Floyd, Black Hole Sun and Fell on Black Days by Soundgarden, HUman Behaviour by Björk, the ubiquitous song for that summer 7 Seconds by Youssou N’Dour, and last but not least, Dawn Penn’s No No No No. When I hear any of these songs, part of me wants to go back and do it all again, but then, no. I think I would do a better job at life, if I could know what I know now…hey, that sounds like a great premise for a book!

It’s so different these days – everyone has headphones and personal devices with virtually any music available 24 hours a day. You can create your own playlist for any city, but then you miss out on the atmospheric music and even the possibility of connection with fellow travellers or locals. Hey, I can see the attraction…

In 1998 there were a lot of boy bands in the charts and Ricky Martin was everywhere. You couldn’t, and I mean this literally, walk down the street without hearing Living La Vida Loca in Europe thanks to the World Cup. Jewel, Celine Dion (thanks Titanic), Mariah Carey and Coolio were on high rotation and the Verve had released their incredible single Bittersweet Symphony, but that song reminds me more of London. Of course, Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana was still playing all over Paris 6 months after her death. But the song that reminds me of our honeymoon in Paris is…anything by the Spice Girls. They were everywhere… Every teenage girl in Paris had chosen a Spice as their spirit animal and lived, breathed, dressed and acted accordingly. It was a sea of track suits and platform sneakers.

In 2006, we spent a month in France with our 7-year-old son. Life changes dramatically when you have kids. I heard a comedian say once that people stop listening to new music once they have kids (there was a joke in there about 80s music but I think it’s a little dated now…) Thank heavens our son is a music fan, even at that young age. We drove around the UK and over to France and had a huge pile of cds made for the trip. James Blunt’s first album, (the best one) was huge and we discovered that there are some unfortunately placed f-bombs in some of his songs. Chasing Cars was huge (my son hates this song but that’s a whole other story.)

Easily the song that most reminds me of France in 2006 is anything sung by my husband as he strummed his guitar. I miss those days, camping and travelling, having picnics on grassy fields and drinking thick chocolat chaud in the shadow of the walls of St Malo.

Jumping forward to 2012 the song of the year was Birdy’s Skinny Love. I cannot hear that song without transporting myself back to the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen on the northern edge of Paris. Each stallholder seemed to have that song playing on repeat, but had started it just a second later than his neighbour. It had an other-wordly effect. David Guetta’s She Wolf was released while I was there in Paris and boomed from every shop.

The major recording artists all stop in Paris too and while I managed to drag my friends to see Chris Issac at the Rex they refused to see Radiohead with me at Bercy. Spoilsports. My son, no longer the tiny boy who rode his scooter all over Paris in 2006, saw The Growlers in Paris last year, choosing to see live bands rather than ponder art in museums like his mother.

There is music everywhere in Paris, from the buskers in the Metro to concerts held in historic churches. We snagged a front row seat for a performance of the Four Seasons in Sainte Chappelle. Like the Mona Lisa, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has is known to everyone, one of the most iconic classical pieces in the world, but it doesn’t make it any less a masterwork. To see the lead violinist shred his bow on the strings from a few metres away was something that will stay with me forever. While wandering the streets around the Pompidou Centre we stumbled across a choir of Tibetan Throat Singers practicing their craft. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

Live performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in Sainte Chapelle not just for tourists

Summer in Paris brings out the boom boxes still, even in the era of iPhones and Spotify. On the weekends when the streets are quieter, you can still see roller-bladers with boom-boxes on their shoulders. They could use head phones but that would spoil the effect!

my art tutor took it very personally.

This is Day 13 of writing 1000+ words a day under the working title of Remembering Paris for Camp Nanowrimo 2019. Feedback, likes, comments and pizza welcome.