Monday, April 20, 2009

A park to beat the band

Yesterday, Amynah and I decided to take advantage of the unexpectedly fine weather and make our way to l’Orangerie park, and “English stye” public gardens not far from the European institutions in Europe. It’s a beautiful place, but far enough of a walk from where we live that we don’t make it out as often as we would like.

As a result, I had missed, on my previous visits, an historical plaque explaining the origins of the manor house in the center of the park. Amynah and I both took a look at it at the same time, me labouring my way through the French, she zipping through an English explanation I didn’t notice.

“It was for the Empress Josephine,” said Amynah.

“What?” I looked at the French again – no mention of Josephine at all.

It turns out the plaque had two different, though related, explanations for the site (and perhaps even a third, but I didn’t attempt to decipher the German version).

In the terse English explanation, the park and manor house were built “in honour” of Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, the Empress Josephine. In the longer and distinctly more hard-eyed French version, the park and manor house were built “to gain favour with Napoleon.” In other words, less a tribute than a bribe.

After a quick jaunt around the park, we were lured back to the front of the building by the sound of drums. There was some sort of multi-cultural festival going on, and a troupe of musician/dancers from, I believe, Ghana were putting on a show (Amynah thinks they were actually from the considerably less-exotic suburb of Lingolsheim. But she’s an incorrigible cynic).

The drumming and dancing were very entertaining and athletic (look at the arms on those guys!) but they didn’t really work up a sweat until they attempted the almost impossible feat of getting French people to sing in public. The only other time Amynah and I went to a public concert here, the singer attempted the audience to join in for “Il est né” a catchy, easy-to-sing and French Christmas carol. They sat like stones. Here, one of the drummers tried to get a call-and-response chant going for a traditional African song. He didn’t stand a chance – despite heroic efforts, the best he could extract from the 100 or so onlookers was “mumbly mumbly mumbly ooooooh,” delivered with all the enthusiasm of someone asking for herpes medication in a crowded pharmacy. Finally, he gave up, and took out his frustrations about his maudits audience on his drum, to everyone’s relief.

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