La Fete de la Musique

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It was no coincidence that La Fete de la Musique, a city-wide, all-night street-jam, occurred on the solstice — indeed, that summer should begin with an eruption of live bands and drum circles on every plaza, corner, bar, and cafe was a relatively recent tradition in the City of Light. But the full moon was an unplanned and auspicious bonus, as were the scooters.

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S. and I clung to our respective Parisian drivers (the brothers Wainstain, Jeremie et Benjamin, were lifelong friends) as we swerved through the mayhem of East Paris, in and out of Smart Cars and Minis, making our own lanes and dodging drunken revelers; though we looked positively dorky, this has to be one of the most authentic ways to experience Paris.

Jeremie and Benjamin conferred at each red light, finally bringing us to the Oberkampf to begin our exploration of the Fete. This was a famously funky part of the 11th arrondisement, where low-rent West African and Arab neighborhoods were being gentrified by “BoBos” — professional yet artsy twenty-somethings, a.k.a the Bohemian-Bourgeoisie. The resulting blend of cultures, nightlife, and tolerance was rockin’, especially on this night, as the masses swarmed around us to the beat of so many different drummers.

The streets were filled and the moon was bright as we walked through it all — African percussion and dance, Balkan horns, French rappers, American disco and jazz; the rhythm changed every 25 meters, but not the mood. Occasionally a roaring parade would roll through another band’s scene, and instead of clashing, they would temporarily alter their tune to match the new beat, always resulting in an enormous burst of energy from the crowd.

We left the party early — around 2 a.m. — the solstice fell on a Tuesday, after all, and our guides had to work in the morning. So they scooted us home to their parents’ flat in Saint Mande, we kissed goodbye, and to bed we went, our heads still full of drums, light, and the moon.

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