When utilizing the metro in Paris, one of the cultural side effects emanating from the tube is the sound of the buskers. The world’s second oldest profession finely displayed. There are 400 permits awarded to 2,000 applicants and are renewable twice a year. Competition is fierce, and the bar is high. You may find a world-class string ensemble playing Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, not to be confused with Korsakoff’s Syndrome, a thiamine deficiency caused by too much alcohol. This group’s arrangement was so effective that even though my day was leisurely, I commiserated with the bees and was so distraught by the frenetic arrangement that I got on the wrong train.
At another metro stop a shofar is separated from the flock in search of a horn section. For the unmusical, this lonely instrument is typically played on Yom Kipur, a day of fasting and atonement, or simply put, everything that Paris is not about. What he lacked in tone, the musician more than made up for in humility. There’s still time to get that backup band. A lot can happen in six months.
Later, a young David Bowie displays his badge for the R.A.T.P. workers and expertly takes us on a flight to Mars. A deaf elderly Chinese man plays the ancient erhu at Spinal Tap levels, while the crowd scurries, grimacing. The acoustics are amazing in the tube.
One does not need a permit on the train itself, as demonstrated by a balding, overweight, sixty-something John Lennon, who lip-synced Imagine while blocking an exit. Or the angry clarinet who corners me and tries to blast the coins out of my pockets. Then there are the riders who forgot their instruments at home and are there solely for the shameless shakedown. Once you make eye contact, you’d better dig deep.
Whatever the category, they do a fine job and they work hard for their money.