Paris, France


Dear Readers,

Salut!

It’s late at night in Paris, and I’m seated near an open window in my hotel room a couple of hours after my concert. I’m on the attic floor of a small hotel not far from the Arc de Triomphe. My room’s not large, but it’s perfectly proportioned and has a great view of the Paris skyline. My window even opens up onto a flat part of the roof, so I’m able to crawl out and perch on the top of the building whenever it strikes my fancy. One particularly beautiful evening this week, at the end of a long walk, I picked up a pizza, took it out onto the roof, and ate under the stars.

The weather here has been rather warmer than the norm, and for the first time in all my visits to Paris it hasn’t been raining. So I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunity to walk at length along the Seine – past the Louvre and Paris’ many monumental buildings. Twice I visited Notre Dame, and each time bikeriders were out in force, whirling past sidewalk booths along the river, flying by old-style posters, postcards, and what looked like some very old books.

Yesterday, as I was browsing among the vendors, a bystander walked past, then did a double-take, looking very strangely at me. It turned out that he recognized me from my recital a couple of months ago at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. We chatted a bit in French – that is, we tried. I had spent the previous week in Stuttgart, Germany, and German, unfortunately, kept inadvertently popping out of my mouth instead of French. But as we spoke, my feeble French gradually began to come back, and in the end, I wound up bargaining down the price of some postcards with one of the vendors, in French. I was very proud of myself though, truth be told, the French I needed wasn’t very complicated.

Still, my appetite was whetted for further French practice, so later that afternoon I went to a French movie at a theater on the Champs-Elysees (there are so many theaters on that street, all within a few blocks of each other). It was a comedy, and while I could understand the physical humor of the actors’ body language, most of the verbal jokes swept right by me. I must have been the only one in the theater who made it through the film without doubling over at least twice. But considering that I studied the language for just 7 weeks this past summer, that didn’t seem too bad to me.

Feeling moderately confident, I went to see another movie this week – Mulholland Drive, an American film dubbed in French – with a friend who lives in Paris, before dinner one evening. We emerged on the Champs-Elysees in bewilderment. And it was our native language! (Though she’d been reading the subtitles in French.) Befuddled by our confusion, we tried to sort things out in a restaurant, over an enormous salad and more food than we could eat. Somebody once told me that the French eat small portions, but you’d never guess it from the salad we had! My friend wound up carrying half the meal back home with her to her refrigerator.

But there was more to do on the Champs-Elysees – the great street that leads up to the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) – than sit in movie theaters and eat in restaurants. A couple of evenings ago, I was a guest on a late-night radio show, taped at a chic, ritzy restaurant on the Champs-Elysees. The interviewer asked me questions in French, which I answered in English with simultaneous translation by a translator who was there for that reason. Then, yesterday, I returned to the area, stopped by a favorite store of mine to buy a new fall/winter coat, visited a Virgin Megastore to load up on new CDs, and people-watched.

Somewhere along the way, I crossed one of the bridges in Paris and passed a middle-aged woman, a kind of street performer working near a boom box, eyes closed, spinning and twirling in a delirium of movement and tape-recorded accordion music. As long as I stood watching her, she whirled on, a dervish with dyed hair, wearing a long coat and a dusty black pinstriped skirt. When I crossed the bridge and looked back over my shoulder, I could still see her fingertips stirring the air over her head in the distance.

Nobody whirled in the aisles like that at my concert this week with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and conductor Charles Dutoit, but all went well, nevertheless. I last worked with this orchestra in March 2001, when we played the Beethoven Concerto with Myung-Wha Chung. This time it was another war-horse of the violin repertoire: Shostakovich Concerto #1, and this was my first opportunity to work with Mr. Dutoit. The Shostakovich is a complex, tricky composition for the orchestra (and for me), so we were fortunate to have a fair amount of rehearsal time together. By the time of tonight’s concert everything felt well-honed and ready to go, and people seemed to like it. I only wish that, after getting everything into such good shape, we could have another performance of the same program again tomorrow night! But, this was a one-concert engagement, so tonight’s concert was it, and after signing programs and CDs I returned to my hotel to pack and write this postcard. Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading off very early for Munich – back into Deutschland again.

Till I get there, I remain,

Yours from the City of Lights,

Hilary