By the River

Today is our "Sabbath," which we decided we needed, yesterday on the train back to Paris. 
Tuesday was Summer Solstice, at which point, the city became one big dance party. As we walked the streets, each corner featured a different kind of music with a different kind of dance. I was carried by Tom for this part, who committed himself (and me) to the scene entirely, and we found ourselves in the middle of as many of these celebrations as possible.

Wednesday was a tourist day, as we visited Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. We found a way for me to sit more naturally in the backpack when we're not trekking, so breaks for rest have been easier and more... restful. So the day ended perfectly, with us all sitting together in the cooling rain, on the steps of a park looking out upon the Eiffel Tower.

In contrast to these two crazy city-life days, yesterday led us out to the countryside. The initial draw I had to France was Django Reinhardt, to visit his hometown area and be among the folks who carry on his legacy with their lives and music. It took a few subways, trains, and buses, but we got there.

This week, in fact, is the annual festival in his memory. While we were figuring out our route at the bus station, a lovely lady named Paula noticed we spoke English (she is Italian, but speaks English very well). She was going to the festival and invited us to go with her, but not to the official festival. No no. She was going to the campground where everyone was staying - featured performers and patrons alike. She said they were all just hanging out, playing music, until the festival started that night. That afternoon was a magical experience for me.

Imagine, if you will, a crowd of tents and caravans set up along a river (the Siene River, in this case). The day is hot and sunny, but no one seems to care. Find some shade, take a dip in the brisk water, have another drink. As long as there's music going on, everything's fine! There is music everywhere, and it's all Django's style. And it's beautiful.

As we came into the camp, it set in where we really were - a gypsy camp ground, reminiscent of what Django lived in and along this very river. Hundreds of musicians were gathered, and all knew the songs. Jazz standards, played Django's way, with plenty of room for improv. The jam sessions were ramshackle pockets of musicians all over the grounds, members coming and going for no reason, just mingling. Social chitchat in the language of music. There would be joking here and there, or a greeting between friends, but mostly everyone just played their instruments and connected through that. And it was beautiful.

Our group sat together, at first, and listened to Paula sing with a pocket of players. Then some of the guys went swimming while Ben carried me on a leisurely stroll through the camp. We lingered at each collection of players we found and enjoyed their "conversation" for a while before moving on.

For a few hours one afternoon, I was part of Django's world, his ideology and music fully realized in a way that transcends generations. It all happens along the river where he fished and played music himself, and I could've sworn I saw him there yesterday, leaning against a tree with a cigarette on his lip. I heard his mangled fingers on the strings of every guitar; I saw his mystic gaze in the eyes of every patron; and I felt his restless, unbreakable heart beating in my own chest. And it was beautiful.