May 23rd, 2011

Trapeze girls

Merry-Go-Squares and Magic Men

Today's theme, friends, is Magic.  Or, perhaps more accurately, serendipity crossed with art, married to a certain willingness to frighten the horses, if only just a little bit.

The first magic was yesterday, at the Manege Carre de Senart (1).  We did go back, in company with the lovely Melanie Fazi, a French fantasy writer we me in Nantes 2 years ago.  We bought a book of tickets, 2 rides each, and circled (as it were) the square, scoping out the best creatures to ride.  The place was all but deserted--just a few parents and children, mostly too young to sit on a bug alone, so we pretty much had our pick.  We started out on the ox--big as Babe of Paul Bunyan fame, though not blue.  I sat on its forehead in a little cast-iron chair and fiddled with levers (I had access to two), which proved to flap the ears.  Ellen, in a kind of side-car below me, pulled the ox's head to the right with a long, wooden, oar-like object.  Melanie, on the other side, wielded a left-turning oar.  We kept that ox thoroughly busy flapping and turning its head, until we got distracted by watching the kids making their fish go up and down on lifts and some very little kids twitching their insect's feelers and waving their legs.  For the second ride, Melanie soared skywards on a fish, and Ellen and I mounted our beetle and wasp/cicada/whatever it was she was riding.  Made me feel like a elfin knight in one of those Victorian fairy paintings, only less well accoutred.  I totally forgot we were the only unaccompanied adults there,  gave in to my inner 10 year old, and pulled levers and twiddled knobs and twirled round and round and round.  Until the carousel stopped, and we had to get off and re-enter the real world again.

The second magic was after dinner.  We were intending to eat in, owing to having bought a duck breast and a lovely fennel bulb and some of the freshest garlic I've ever seen.  But the apartment was full of 14 year old boys doing their art history homework, and we didn't want to derange them, so we trotted across the street to an Algerian restaurant our hostess recommended to us.  She was so right.  I've never had such good merguez--not all that spicy, but full of flavor and tender as a maiden's dream.  And Ellen was very happy with her chorba.

We ate outside, since the evening was a good one for being outside, and watched the neighborhood walk by in all its diverse splendor--not a fashionable person in sight, but acres of style.  We had gotten to the point of sipping an after-dinner sweet mint tea and thinking about taking a walk when a  street musician appeared with a oud, both handsome but somewhat the worse for wear.  He really knew how to make that oud sing--and an oud is not the easiest instrument in the world to play.  After a few songs, he went around with his little purse, gathering whatever people were willing to give him.  I'm not sure how it happened, but we ended up having a long conversation with him (beginning in French and seguing into English once he'd figured out were were American)--about ouds and lute music and his father, who was a musician and taught him everything he knew, and the different modes of music in Algeria (where he is from), from Arab to Sephardic, and his three children and two divorces.  His English was fluent if eccentric.  He kissed our hands on parting and told me, quite kindly, that I'd lose my stutter if I just spoke with more confidence.  Easier said than done, but I'm working on it.

The third magic was today, when our friend Maud took us on a walking tour of the quartier.  It turns out that Belleville is a lot prettier than I'd have guessed, just walking up and down the Blvd. Menilmontant.  And overflowing with artists.  As we walked down narrow little back streets that have been decorated with tags and posters and little mosaics, we saw a man on a ladder pasting up an almost life-sized cut-out grisaille silhouette of a man with his legs crossed while a friend photographed the process.  As we passed, a woman stopped to a picture of the scene, so Ellen whipped out her camera to get a picture of that, and I took a picture of Ellen taking that picture--a conceit that pleased me mightily.

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1.  Please forgive total lack of accents in my French. I don't know how to add them; and even if I did, I'd undoubtedly have them sloping in all the wrong directions.