I often complain to Handsome that although my apartment is in a tony neighborhood, the street I live on is very fucking loud.
Mostly because at all hours of the day and night, tony little teenage boys, wearing jeans and oxford shirts hanging out of cashmere sweaters, like to speed their annoying little motorbikes down my street. Motorbikes whose mufflers have been removed on purpose. I can hear them all the way down the block before I ever see them. The acoustics of my street are like that : the sound travels around the curve just before my building, bounces off the opposite pierre de paris walls, and shoots straight into my living room.
Oddly enough, it never bothered me before we went on our trip to Atlanta and DC. Once we got back, after a whole month of lush yards full of birdsongs, I suddenly couldn't stand the noise - like collossal mosquitoes heading straight for me, only to buzz right past my ear and keep going.
I've taken to shooting them the finger from the safety of my apartment, or muttering curses and insults under my breath like some bitter old lady. I'm sure Handsome finds this totally sexy.
Then there is the normal, everyday garbage and recycled glass collection. Did I mention I live next door to a tony restaurant? Which generates a lot of glass bottles? Which get collected at 6:30 in the morning? The garbagemen also like to shout instructions across to each other. I have no doubt that this, like the missing mufflers, is very much on purpose.
Oh, and I should add that I also live near a private elementary school. I can attest to the fact that little children going to school at 8 in the morning make a lot of noise.
To make matters worse, the city of Paris has planned many things for my street this summer. First off, an initiative called 'Vélib', whereby 750 bicycle rental stands are to be installed around the city by July 15th. There are at least two near my apartment - both of whose installations could be clearly heard from beginning to end. Starting at 8:01 in the morning.
Then the city decided to replace the streetlamps. Every single one that lines my street. Do you have the faintest idea how much noise is generated by tearing up sidewalks, pavement, and installing new streetlamps? One thing I can tell you : it requires a lot of fucking jackhammers. At 8 in the morning.
You would think with all this noise early in the morning, I would have no trouble getting up and getting ready for work at a decent hour. You would be wrong. I am one stubborn motherfucker when it comes to the snooze button.
So it came as a particularly welcome auditory surprise Tuesday evening, when walking back from the grocery store, to hear - instead of all this grating noise - a brass band marching down the street. I stopped in my tracks to listen. 'When the Saints Go Marching In' came floating around the bend, and I immediately thought, 'A jazz funeral in the 16th arrondissement?' I tried to remember if it was a holiday, if there was some reason for commemoration. With all the obscure Catholic observances, one can never tell.
I waited for them to appear, curious to see how many they were and how they were dressed. Then I saw them : three bedraggled Gypsy men - two trumpets and a French horn/tuba hybrid - dressed in worn-out green band jackets and old fashioned straw hats, like a barbershop quartet. They walked slowly down the middle of the road, pushing a duct-taped boom box blaring background music in a rolling cart, nonchalantly blocking traffic and raising their instruments to the apartment buildings they passed. A city bus got stuck behind them, and to my amazement, the driver didn't honk or gesture for them to get out of the way, but as he rounded a corner and managed to squeeze by them, laughed and stuck up his thumb in approval. The passengers gaped at the scene from the windows. People appeared on their balconies to watch and listen; windows opened and heads stuck out to see what was going on.
The man playing the French horn made the rounds of the sidewalks, sticking out his hat to collect coins from passersby, some who stopped to contribute, some who continued on but waved and clapped. Almost everyone was smiling and laughing, shaking their heads at the gumption.
In an instant, they had transformed an early gray evening, when people normally wearing stern and determined Parisian expressions rushed to do their shopping for dinner before the stores closed, into a moment of wonder.
I hurried back to my apartment to grab my camera. At the pace they were going, I could beat them there and make it back downstairs in time. I waited for them to come around the bend before my building, taking up sentry next to the valet of the tony restaurant, a charming young man in his early twenties who always has a smile and a wave at the ready.
'What's going on?' he asked in his usual friendly tone.
'It's a group of street musicians, who've literally taken over the street!' I exclaimed happily.
We watched them arrive. They were now playing 'Hava Nagila', much to my amusement. I sang and danced along, kicking my legs out to the left and right, and as they approached, I stepped out to the French horn player to give him some coins and a pack of cigarettes. He tipped his hat in thanks and let me take his picture.
I motioned that I was done, and they slowly moved on, to the utter bewilderment of the tony customers trying to make their way to the restaurant entrance. The valet leapt to open the door and usher them inside.
Once back outside at his post, he said, 'Wow, you were really generous to them!'
'Hey,' I replied, 'it's not easy to get a whole street full of Parisians to smile, and that should be rewarded.'
*'Crazy foreigner' in Romany, and the name of an excellent movie by Tony Gatlif, a director of Gypsy descent who has made many films about Gypsy life.