The first time I experienced the Fête de la Musique was 2002. The first year I was in France. I didn’t even know what it was when a friend of the family invited me to come out with her. We wandered around the Marais until 1 in the morning. The streets in the Marais were packed, musicians were set up on every street corner. People were lining up at the ice cream parlours, and there wasn’t a free café seat in all of Paris that night.
I was enchanted. It was an amazing atmosphere, like throwing off the shackles of winter and embracing summer with everything you’ve got.
It remains one of the thing that I really do love about the French. Even though it was a weeknight, nobody cared. The celebrating of summer and of music in the street was far more important.
I had a few more enchanting Fêtes de la Musique, but in the mid 2000s something changed. Perhaps it was because I was thirty and not as interested in consuming loads of alcohol, not that that’s by any means what the Fête is about to me, but it seemed like that is what it became to many people. Especially young lycéens who had just finished their Bac and were looking to celebrate. Which of course they should, but a few Fêtes that we did around that time just left me disappointed. People were just smashed and not very convivial. And then we started having children, so we couldn’t really stay out all night anyway, and so we gave up on it for a few years.
Last year, I went out to dinner with a friend and walked back home from Paris to our village. The main square in our town had set up a stage and there were musicians playing. It was a different ambiance though. There were lots of children around, playing. People were in the outdoor café on the square. It was more like what I had in my imagination.
And so, last night, we spent the day bicycling, and then went home and had a bath, and had dinner. And then, and this is I believe the first time we have ever done this, we all went back outside. We stopped at the gelato shop for ice cream and then went down to main square to listen to music.
We are usually stickers for the 8pm bedtime. But now you are 3.5 and 6, and I decided that, this was the time when we can start breaking rules every once in a while. The day before, Son you’d had your piano recital, and Daughter you’d had your dance recital, which happened to take place at the local theatre. It had started at 8:30pm which is half an hour past your normal bed time. Both events were so fun, and so you had a weekend of staying up late.
I haven’t experienced as nice a Fête de la Musique since 2002 I don’t think. We listened by the stage for a while, and you both started seeing little friends from your school. So we decided to snag a table on the terrasse. I had a bière à la menthe and your Papa ordered an omelettes frites. You children were running free all over the huge place, playing with your friends. There were a few more parents at the café, and you all kept coming to everyone’s table, depending on who had the most French fries at the moment, and eating fries and stealing pieces of baguette from the bread basket. Papa ordered more fries to attract more children. We sat there for quite a while, listening to the music, watching you run and play enjoying the summer weather.
It made me feel something. It’s the feeling of how I want you all to experience summer. I remember my own childhood in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Even though it was not the safest place to be, we ran all over the neighborhood until it got dark and then came home for dinner. That just no longer seems to be possible, I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the times, maybe it’s because we live in a town with tall apartment buildings rather than houses and a few smaller complexes, so we know people more. But it did give you that free feeling, of going to bed a bit later, and running around free for a few hours.
Which is what summer should be all about.
Let’s aim for that, kids.
Boys and girls come out to play
The moon doth shine as bright as day
Leave your supper and leave your sleep
And join your playfellows in the street
Come with a whoop and come with a call
Come with a good will or not at all
Up the ladder and down the wall
A tuppenny loaf will serve us all
You bring milk and I’ll bring flour
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour