Situation Normal

It was a weekend of odd gigs. I’ve finally realized that any gig in France is an odd gig.

The first, at an Irish pub run by French people, in the city of Angoulême. We walked in and there were two huge TV screens going and some very focused men in sports jerseys watching rugby. The stage had a bodhran hanging on the wall, along with rusty instruments and photos and drawings of grizzled Irishmen enjoying a good craic.

Signs in French on the walls advised that in an Irish pub it is customary to walk up to the bar and order and pay for your drink and then take it to your seat. In France, even in the humblest bar or cafe, if you sit at a table the patron will come over and serve you.

The owners were sweet, demanding immediately that we “tu” rather than “vous” them. It was a little challenging, trying to do a soundcheck with a bar full of people – amazing how just being in the same room as a soundcheck turns the average man or woman into a qualified sound technician.

“The voices, is not loud enough? Your music, it’s very good – but trop fort.”

“This, over here, bring down. And that one, there – bring up. You see? You sing nice but those sounds get in the way.”

“You play music?” This said as we stood there with guitars in hand. I wasn’t sure if the guy was extremely dull-witted or just making a value judgment.

All of a sudden I was starving, and ran out to find a banana or something. I’d forgotten that it was a holiday in France – everything was closed, except cafes. I was starting to shake when I ran into Emmanuel on the street. He’d come to see us play. Angoulême is a pretty town and worth a visit, but probably better when the shops are open. Still, he helped me find a luxe patisserie and their clafoutis (a traditional baked cherry and custard treat) was the best I’ve tasted.

When we finished the soundcheck, the owner had set up a table for our dinner – huge thick slices of ham and pate, some Camembert, bread, and a massive bowl of frites. With a cute little pottery jug of red wine. Not exactly the healthy eating we’ve been aiming for, but it would have been rude to refuse.

Then Mickey our friend the French to English translator showed up and we went for drinks in a chic wine bar. Everything looked “chic” to me – I get used to the country bumpkin style in the deep country of the Limousin, where you rarely see big sunglasses and high heels…they’d look pretty out of place in the middle of a pasture.

The gig was us playing for about twenty interested people and the rest a parade of Saturday night revelers, varying in age from sixteen to sixty. Some would stroll past the stage, gape for a minute, then move on. Some cheered for a while, until it was time to go have a cigarette. There was an older gent who approached the stage politely to tell us we were very good but could we please play quieter, as he was having trouble conversing with his friends.

Two sets later, after ample hugs from the owners, the female half especially, who rumor has it was a “hostess” in North Africa in a former life, we drove through the moonlit countryside: past a few chateaux, a kooky lit-up antique car showroom in the unpronounceable La Rochefoucauld, villages and sleeping cows. Left the car full of equipment parked out front, for the next day when we’d be setting off early for another show – a record fair in Perigueux. Sunday…France…I made a plan to pack a banana.

11 thoughts on “Situation Normal

  1. Mike

    Angouleme, I am going there in January for the comics festival. Hotels completely booked out now. Could be in for a cold stay.French gig going sounds quite eccentric.

  2. amy

    Mike, I'm glad to hear they're still having the BD fest, since the funding for a lot of cultural activities has been cut. (though they did just build that huge new museum there so…) Will you have a car?TFITW, this clafoutis finally lived up to my expectations! They can to turn to rubber in less expert hands.

  3. grahame

    "huge thick slices of ham and pate, some Camembert, bread, and a massive bowl of frites. With a cute little pottery jug of red wine."mmm… sounds pretty good to me — certainly better than the usual greasy pizza or curled up Boars Head coldcut platter covered in cling film. And then clafoutis…?Now I'm hungry.

  4. a

    I've still got an umbrella that we bought in Angouleme in 2002. Pretty good going, for an umbrella. Vicious bout of food poisoning from a boudin noir, too. Otherwise a lovely town…

  5. amy

    no no, the clafoutis came first! But you're right Grahame, it was a sweet little spread. I forgot to mention they'd made a nice tomato salad, with oil and garlic. I may not have the stomach to describe the meal at the record fair next day though…Yes, a longer than average life for a travel umbrella, a. Sad about the boudin – eating out in France can be a dangerous proposition. it still stuns me, how often people serve truly awful food here – some of the worst I've ever seen. Sad.

  6. Mike

    Hi Amy, the jury is out on getting a car. Train mostly but given the limits on hotels in town a car may be necessary. I find it a bit hard to judge from this distance.I'll steer clear of the boudin though.

  7. amy

    there are some sweet little chambres d'hotes and gites dotted around Mike. Maybe we should open our own "hotel" for the fest and offer shuttle service!

  8. Rosie

    God yes…french bars are the strangest of gigs arent they? At least they cant smoke anymore. I can remember trying to sing into a wall of women about a foot directly in front of me, all blowing smoke in my face. Breathing aint so easy in those circumstances.

  9. amy

    I definitely don't get sick as much as I used to Rosie – but now you have the distraction of people coming and going all through the show because they have to leave and smoke a cigarette. But people didn't use to stand there texting at shows either…time marches on.

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