A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Finding 21st Century Paris Part 2

11 February 2011

(Read Part 1)

Upon arrival at the airport, we were able to go through passport and customs control somewhat speedily and collected our baggage.  We didn’t, however, escape the gravitational field of the airport as quickly as we had hoped. This was due to a protracted hunting expedition for museum passes and no small confusion as to the exact desk where they might be hiding.

Apparently, there are at least two different species of information desks bearing the distinctive information icon:  airport information and Information Tourisme.  The people at the airport information desk informed us that we could find the other kind of information desk, with the desired museum passes, in terminal 2-B.

We were in terminal 2-A, so we began lugging our bags (I guess that’s why it’s called luggage) along with the rest of airport civilization, chanting, “2-B or not 2-B.”

Along the way, we began to notice that every sign, poster, billboard or brochure had something to say (in French, of course) about le rugby.  It was le rugby everything.  We were slightly curious, but chose to file the information away for future reference.  Eventually, we found our museum passes (they were in terminal 2-D . . .), and we consoled ourselves that the reward for ‘airport rats’ running the maze was the chance to eat les fromages de France.

As we walked toward the trains, the occasional windows in the airport allowed me to notice that it was still raining. I prayed for better weather.  We bought two “Paris Visite” passes and soon boarded the RER Line B headed for Paris.

The train wasn’t too crowded.  There was a North African guy playing a mechanical organ on our car.  I gave him a couple of coins.  We passed through graffiti-covered suburbs, rarely stopping (we had unwittingly caught an express train) until we reached Paris.

The same curious motif appeared in many of Paris’ Métro stations: a photo that runs the length of the station, featuring diverse people of all ages, races, classes, and both sexes, each hunched over and holding the hips (or shoulders) of the one in front to form a long line.  Above the photo it read, “Tous derrières les Bleus.”  Then it clicked for us:  more le rugby.  Of course — Parisians forming a ruck, or maul, or even a scrum, (these ancient Saxon words describing what appear to be migratory insect formations are actual rugby terms).  It seems every time we visit Paris, there is some sort of mass sports hysteria.  On three occasions before it was Le tour de France (mechanisms that roll on two circles); once it was La coupe du monde (a spherically-shaped object that is kicked around because you can’t touch it with your hands); and now we were immersed in le rugby.  “Everybody behind the Blues.”


 Le ruck . . . ou . . . le maul?


We stopped at the Châtelet-Les Halles Station to change trains and eventually emerged from the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre stop into a slight mist.  The scene that greeted us looked little different (except maybe for the cars and buses) from that of Camille Pissarro’s 1898 painting, Place du Théâtre Française:  effet du soleil, with the Comédie Française right in front of us, and the Opéra Garnier at the end of the wide boulevard.  We found our hotel and made a feeble attempt to check in, knowing it was still quite early in the day.

“La chambre n’est pas prête.”  Learning that the room wasn’t ready, we went off in the drizzle in search of some place for le déjeuner.  On rue St Honoré we found just what we needed — Higuma — a quick and attractive option after all the ultra-processed white flour we had on the flight.  Ce n’est pas la cuisine française, but Paris has had an international visage at least since the Romans invited themselves onto the Parisii’s island.  Paris’ population has become visibly even more global in the past decade, and restaurant listings seem to confirm this.

I had a curry and Colleen had a rice bowl.  Soon, two guys who looked to be about 20 years old squeezed past us to sit at the doll-house table next to ours.  As they were practically in our laps, I couldn’t help but notice how they attacked their food, expertly brandishing their chopsticks.  Obviously, they had a head-start on us in learning to use these implements.

They both spoke English fairly well.  This was good, because my French, which I intrepidly endeavor to use, is unintelligible when I am jet-lagged.  (It was now 3 a.m. in California.)  We learned that one of them is Filipino and had moved to Paris at age two; the other, Korean, had moved to Paris at age 12.  Soon Colleen, never missing an opportunity, had her notebook out and was prodding and probing in an attempt to elicit any faintly remembered childhood song.  After a while the Korean, who spoke less English than the Filipino and thus couldn’t defend himself, relented.  He offered, somewhat diffidently, the following song:


 Gom Semari (Three Bears) as sung by Byung-Hwa.


When he translated it from Korean for us, I liked the poetic ambiguity about the cute Baby Bear.  We couldn’t be entirely certain if he/she was fat or slim or somewhere in between.  I offered to transcribe the song onto a napkin, as Colleen’s suggestion of going outside with a tape-recorder seemed too intimidating for their part in my opinion.  After several attempts to reproduce the song from memory, with the three of us cheering him on, and the smiling interest of those around us in the restaurant being drawn in, Byung-Hwa finally sang the song all the way through.  My napkin was covered with notation.  Byung-Hwa supplied a few Korean characters to top it off.

After this, feeling intensely indebted for what Colleen had put these two through, I offered to embarrass myself by singing a comptine that I happened to know, “Un escargot.”  This way Byung-Hwa wouldn’t feel alone: 

Un escargot
Un escargot s'en allait à la foire
Pour s'acheter une paire de souliers.
Quand il arriva, il faisait déjà nuit noire ;
Il s'en retourna . . . nu pieds.
Un escargot s'en allait à l'école
Car il voulait apprendre à chanter.
Quand il arriva, ne vit que des herbes folles ;
C'était les vacances . . . d'été.
Un escargot s'en allait en vacances
Pour visiter l'Inde et le Japon.
Au bout de sept ans, il était toujours en France
Entre Dijon et . . . Lyon!

A Snail
A snail went to the fair
To buy a pair of shoes.
When he arrived it was already night;
He returned . . . bare foot.
A snail went to school
Because he wanted to learn to sing.
When he arrived, there was only wild grass;
It was summer . . . vacation.
A snail went on vacation
To visit India and Japan.
After seven years he was still in France
Between Dijon and . . . Lyon!

We all laughed.  This children’s song was fresh in my memory because I had slipped it into a work that I had composed for symphony orchestra recently, hoping to get the earworm “unstuck.”  It apparently didn’t work.  (One wonders, is this why all those variations on “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman” [K. 265/300e] were made?)

After having finished our meals, we lingered a while longer. (Anecdotal evidence shows that meals in France tend to take 200-300% longer than anywhere else in the world, even if musicological data is not being collected.)

Finally we all stood up.  Then, in a dauntless, blinding move, I snatched the check from Byung-Hwa’s hand and — despite their protests — paid for their meals.  This should not be construed as “singing for one’s supper;” they had bestowed a gift upon us and I wanted to thank them.

The most elegant gift of the day, however, was that when we left the restaurant, the sun warmly greeted us. The rain had stopped and would not resume until the very morning of our ride back to the airport almost two weeks later.

The weather made for a pleasant walk over to Île St Louis, where there is a worthy, exceptional museum that may easily be overlooked.  But maybe we'll talk about that next . . .


The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: