Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Putting one across


Montpellier. The photo above is of the Place de la Comédie, the great square in the centre of the city. It's called Comédie because the imposing building in the centre is the Opéra-Comédie, meaning that when it was built in the 1860s it was designed for both opera and stage plays. And you could hardly call this majestic square Place de la Tragédie.

I'm possibly in the photo, tucked away under one of those café awnings on the extreme right. It's 31º. These awnings have built-in brumatiseurs, which in very hot weather emit a fine spray, a mist, of cold water over the customers every now and then. Very refreshing. I have my coffee - alone: J. has gone to see her acupuncturist - and a glass of water. And today's Times, printed in Marseilles. I'm about to attack the crossword (1 ac. 'European residing in very attractive city' (6) - could be me, except that we don't actually live here) when my ear is savaged by some dreadful Eastern European accordion music.

It turns out to be coming from a lad of about 11. Faint traces of my former profession swirl up from the depths to ask Why isn't he in school? He is playing an endless sort of waltz, always in a minor key. After about ten minutes' worth of this revolving dirge he locks his accordion, takes a cup out of his pocket and wanders between the café tables soliciting coins from the clientèle. Many just shake their heads. Some put a few coins in. I lighten my net worth to the extent of 20 centimes. I could just have easily have taken something out as put something in. He goes away.

I thought (indeed, hoped) that might be the last we saw of him, but no. Presently he started up a new tune. The same minor key. It was like meeting unexpectedly someone you haven't seen for 30 years, you're unprepared for the change, you're not quite certain...

He was playing a tortured, barely recognisable, ultra-simplified version of Für Elise, a little piano piece by Beethoven, who would for once in his life have rejoiced to be stone deaf. Presently the lad wandered off to work one of the other cafés and I returned to my crossword.

Why wasn't the lad at school? I was reminded of an occasion years before when a parent, an American pastor whom I knew quite well, asked if he might take his two boys out of school for a fortnight. Would this hold back their progress? I trotted out two answers. Taking the narrow view, there would probably have to be some catching up when the boys got back, which tended to slow down the progress of the rest of the class, which was, to say the least, frustrating. Taking the broader view, in the context of the space-time continuum of the whole cosmos, it could not possibly matter two hoots if they took two weeks off school.

'That's the wisest thing I've ever heard a teacher say,' he said.

1ac. has to be 'Venice', surely?

19 comments:

dinahmow said...

I was trying to say, when Blogger gobbled it...fond as I was of the city when I lived there, I doubt 1.ac is "LONDON"

I used to work with a woman who'd taken her then 12 year old daughter out of school(amid gnashing teeth and rolling of eyes of school governors)for a year and the two went back-packing around Europe. I bet that girl knows a hell of a lot more about life, people and how to live than the governors!

Rog said...

V. Nice truancyism Christopher. That's "city in NE France loses National Capital contained by self-evident truth."

Z said...

It's not the governors' fault, it's the government. A school is judged on its absence rate, including illness. A carload of four local teenagers crashed the winter before last, they were all off school for weeks and it really stuffed our attendance figures, let alone their education. A school not far away was downgraded by Ofsted because their absence levels were deemed too high. It's an absurd game to play, but one has to play it - and there is the point that one pupil taking a fortnight off is not that big a problem, but every child in the class having a different fortnight away is.

Taking a 12 year old round Europe for a year is a brilliant idea, I'd go with that!

Vicus Scurra said...

Thank you, dear boy, this blog seems to improve each time.

letouttoplay said...

I once wrote a veritable essay on why it would be reasonable and acceptable for me to take a day off school for a purpose which is now too embarrassing to specify. The headmaster turned me down, pointing out that if I'd spent as much time on maths as requests for time off he might have thought differently.

(Must have missed something here, but wouldn't a European residing in Venice be a Venetian?)

Z said...

European is the E, Mig. The subject is city.

Christopher said...

MIT: Quite agree. I had the anomalous reputation of being a bit of a de-schooler, particularly when we were treated - not very often, they take things quite seriously in Scotland - as a babysitting agency.

Rog: Aha. So it's you that sets these clues?

Z: This doesn't sound at all fair to me. You ought to have something like the Duckworth-Lewis method for establishing absence ratings. I mean what happens if an entire school plus staff all go down with flu?

If you enjoy it, Vicus, then it's all worthwhile. Thank you.

Mig: But you can't keep us dangling like that! A little hint as to the substance of your request? Maybe in the form of a crossword clue, e.g. Firebody (n) (anag.)?

Z (again): This is in very fact true, as my brother once said when in his cups.

Z said...

Tough, I'm afraid. You'd still get a frowning demand to do better next year if it put you above the authorised absence target. At the school downgraded to 'satisfactory' (they were going to appeal, I don't know what happened), those who were identified as having been away more than average were deemed a 'vulnerable group' and their exam results looked at. They weren't as good as they should have been, so the whole school was marked down. You retired at the right time, dear man.

Spadoman said...

We have taken our children out of school. When we told them we had plans to do this, they told us that it would put the girls behind. I knew in my heart that the experience of traveling the country with their mom and dad would be far more beneficial than 2 + 2 = 4, (or 5 is it?).
By your description, I sort of would have liked to hear the lad. I mean, an audiophile like yourself with such a trained ear would notice what was happening musically, where as I would just like the idea of someone playing an instrument, whether or not it sounded "good" or "bad", (being relative, of course).
Anyway, looks like a great place to stop for espresso. Will you take me there if and when I visit?
(Going to Phoenix, AZ tomorrow, not far from Prescott where you know people or have been before, isn't that right? They have the mist sprayers as it is well over 100 degrees F. every day lately.

Peace to you Sir

Dave said...

I took 2½ weeks off blogging. Please take this as a parental note asking permission.

Christopher said...

Spadoman: Good to see you. Enlightened parents, clearly. Coffee - and more - in Montpellier any time you like. Just say the word. It will be my pleasure.

Dave: Welcome back. You've been much missed. We've just about got by without you. Are you engaged? Or did you call in at Gretna Green?

Geoff said...

We just get a middle aged man who struggles with Edelweiss and Danny Boy time and time again on his violin. Oh for a child prodigy!

Anonymous said...

Your 'low key description' of the begging lad (out of school) playing a repetitive tune on his accordion In amongst Marseilles cafés is thoroughly delightful. If the lad has no enthusiasm for his École - perhaps, his school doesn't teach Music in its curricula - at least he had the verve to ply age-old ways of gypsies to collect a latter-day centime or Euro or two. There will be more in the little fellow's story, I'm sure you will agree, than may meet a critical eye and musical ear even of a cross-wording Marseilles café frequenting maestro.

dinahmow said...

A young girl who 'saws' her violin at the shopping centre has a sign in her case: "please help play for music lessons."


(I was going to type sic.But perhaps she's right?)

Christopher said...

Geoff: Hi. Reminds me of a story by A.A.Milne about flat-dweller A who complained of water coming through the ceiling every time flat-dweller B above took a bath. B in turn complained that A's little boy constantly picking out the notes of God Save the King with one finger on the piano was an intolerable nuisance.

A responded 'But I don't have a little boy.'

B replied 'And I never have a bath.'

Anon: I do agree, wholeheartedly. And what you suggest applies equally to Montpellier.

MIT: She couldn't have been Chinese, could she, and what she really meant was '...pray for music lessons'?

Mike and Ann said...

Only do the Telegraph Crossword and then only on Saturdays. But I'm sure Venice is right. E for european in V. nice - a city = Venice.

Christopher said...

M 'n' A: Absolutely, spot on.

letouttoplay said...

I knew I was missing something.
Thinking now. May take a while.

Anonymous said...

I apologise. Anyway, there's bound to be school absconding accordion players in 'funny places' of Marseilles as well don't you suppose?