Monday, February 8, 2010

La Vieux Belleville, a French Chanson Bar

Going to a French Chanson bar is probably a parisian activity that most people living in Paris will never do. The concept is simple: dinner and drinks at a small restaurant. Afterward, a French musician, with an accordion, lyric sheets, and eccentric glasses, leads the group in joint singing which becomes louder and louder as the night proceeds.

MC, Maria and I heard about "La Vieux Belleville" through a friend and decided that this would be be the perfect place to spend a Saturday evening. As we wait for our dinner to arrive, we read through a mini-postcard to get a sense for what to expect. It says:
- "Chansons (singers), accordeon (accordian), and orgue de barbarie (???)"

What is an orgue de babarie? My initial thought is - an organ of barbarism. But what type of musical instrument would that be?! After fits of giggling, we decide that my translation is NOT correct and proceed to use a dictionary to look up each word. On a side note, yes I brought a dictionary to the Chansons Bar. According to my dictionary:
- Orgue = Organ
- Barbarie = Barbarity

Was my translation really correct? But what in the world is a barbaric organ? Refusing to believe this, MC looked up the combined phrase instead of the individual words, turning up with the definition "a musical instrument that is part of the organ family." This definition make a lot more sense now. However, it's still beyond me why anyone would name a beautiful instrument "organ of barbarity."

Our night continued with some loud, off-tune singing to "La Vie En Rose" (Life in Rose) and "Emmenez Moi" (Take me). The lead singer frequently came by our table to ask us if we could understand since we were the only foreigners at the bar. Later in the night we sang an upbeat song about a man who was sent to work off his crime on a boat. When she asked us what we thought about the song, I replied "we liked it but it was rather sad. " With a huge grin on her face, she said "But it's gay!" before skipping off to the next table.

I spent a good portion of the night chatting with the old French man sitting next to me, who was there with his family. Grandpa seemed to enjoy drinking wine and felt the need to pour us glasses of wine when ours were empty. Maria declined, explaining that she was not drinking that night. Grandpa found this very difficult to comprehend. As the night wore on, Grandpa's French became difficult to understand and I realized that he was slurring his words. He also jokingly told us that his was "gentile" (friend) but his nephew, who was across from him, was "dangereux." I think this was our cue to leave and head home.

We headed home, full , happy and humming new songs. J'adore la France.

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