Saturday, August 27, 2011

before summer ends

In Paris, the last few days of summer do not go gentle into that good, somber dusk of autumn. It rages on with aplomb. It’s as if the ageing, dying sun, in its last attempt to make itself felt before the gloom of autumn sets in, heaves in a deep breath and exhales in full force whatever air is left in its lungs. With the temperature wildly swinging from the mildness of 15 degrees to the dizziness of 32, there is still enough zest left among Parisians to take to the streets and celebrate the season.

These days, if I could help it, I choose not to ride the subterranean Metro. There is so much to see on the streets on summer nights. Whenever I go out from my part-time job near the attention-seeking, suppository-shaped Eiffel Tower, I would cross the Seine through the Pont d’Iena and walk all the way up the Esplanade du Trocadero, from whose vantage point one can have a perfect view of the Tour Eiffel in all its vulgar, phallic glory.

On this esplanade, you can see boisterous tourists, hawkers of Chinese-made metal replicas of the Eiffel Tower, and professionally trained pickpockets milling about amid never-ending camera flashes. Most tourists pose in the most grotesque manner just to make the illusion on picture that they are holding the tower’s tip. Or that they’re leaning on it. Or that the tower is impaling them through their butt. If I only had the time, I’d stay on this esplanade the whole day and watch tourists do their otherworldly poses.

Here, too, I get to see street performers every night. Since this wide, open space is vast enough for several groups to perform simultaneously without disturbing each other, you’re bound to see a group that suits your taste. Among the regular performers here are a group of American Indians in ponchos and fancy feather headdresses playing the recorder, the flute, and a rattling thingy to pre-recorded background music. Hanging on their mic stands are colorful dream catchers in various sizes. On good nights, they perform what seem to be stylized, New Age-inspired renditions of native American Indian music. But most nights, they simply play standard pop songs like Celine Dione’s My heart will go on, Andrea Boccelli’s Time to say goodbye, and even the Christmas standard When the child is born.

In one corner, a band plays Latin music to which couples passionately dance, to the delight of amused onlookers.

In the middle of the courtyard, a group of hiphop dancers commands the biggest crowd. They do their routine break dance coupled with acrobatics while goading the audience to participate by clapping or waving their hands. Then, they pass a small container around for some loose change. “If you liked our performance, please give us money; if you didn’t, then just give us money,” they would say.

Last night, I saw a guy pushing an upright piano on a specially made cart with four heavy-duty wheels. He stopped in front of the Palais du Chaillot at the edge of the esplanade and nonchalantly unloaded the instrument as if it was just an ordinary wooden cabinet. Then, he lifted it from the side and set it on the ground. There was no way that thing could be a piano! It took six robust men to carry my own piano when it was moved out of our old house in Manila. Or maybe they’ve already found a way to use lighter material for the frames instead of massive iron, making the mammoth instrument more portable. Anyway, I didn’t pause to know what exactly he would do with it because I was itching to go home.

But tonight, upon reaching the steps of the Palais de Chaillot, after having crossed the esplanade, I saw the same guy playing the instrument with bravura. It was, indeed, a real piano. He had removed the wooden panel of its lower half to expose the front soundboard, the strings and the pedal mechanism, thus making it sound louder. (I’m still wondering why it was so light.)

A group of onlookers had gathered around him, filming or simply watching him. I stopped and marveled at how skilled he was on the keyboard. Wearing a leather jacket and faded jeans, he pounded on the keys with such fiery passion. He was wearing silver nail polish which vaguely glinted as he fingered the arpeggios and hammered the octaves. I could tell that he was merely improvising because the piece didn’t seem to be progressing methodically. In fact, at one point, I thought he would go on and on. He seemed to have perfected the technique in playing several virtuosic passages and then just combined them to form a sonata-sounding piece. But then again, I may be wrong. It might really have been a composed piece which he memorized. Whatever it was, it sounded good. And the audience erupted into rapturous applause when he finally ended.

I had wanted to speak with him after that but there were already some people who beat me to it. So I just threw in some change into a basket on the piano top, took a hard, long look at the impossibly light piano again, and then continued walking onto the cobbled streets, into the cool night that bore the dying wheezing of summer and first few breaths of autumn.

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