Bordeaux

177 – Playing Handel in the Gare St. Jean

Writing this blog these past few weeks has allowed me to understand the city in a way I couldn’t have done from sightseeing or reading books alone. The act of writing has made the events of the past month stick in my head so firmly that they’ll not be easily erased.

Like last night for instance.

During my nightly sojourn to the Gare St. Jean near where I live, I noticed that the public piano near the bookstand was for once free. I took my cue and jumped on, playing Gavotte by Handel, the only piece I ever learnt from four years of piano lessons, over and over again like I was a concert pianist in the Albert Hall.

Until the security guard sidled up to me and asked me to stop. ‘I thought it was a fucking echo,’ he said pointing to the piano and then up to the high walls of the station. ‘Then I realised it was you. What are you doing? This is for professionals.’

I apologised but argued that it wasn’t my fault. Gavotte was the only piece my piano teacher ever taught me. He shrugged and said he understood. He’d had violin lessons as a kid but had only got as far as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He even started humming it. I said I knew it. ‘We have it in England.’

Then I told him that I’d lied. I knew Chopsticks as well. But something went badly wrong in the translation, as he suddenly said it was time to leave and that I should only return if I intended to catch a train.

I later remembered that chopsticks in French translates as baguette (for some weird reason), so he must have thought I was taking the piss or being rude. ‘Playing the baguette.’

I’ll never know as I took his advice and left, leaving some so-called professional to rattle off a couple of symphonies in my absence. Bah!

Point of the story is. And there is a point. If anybody ever asks me about the Gare St. Jean in Bordeaux, even in fifty years time, I’ll be able to describe it down to the last doorknob. The colour of the walls, the way to the toilets, the smell of the floor detergent, the size of the departure screens, the height of the ceiling, the number of platforms, the times of the trains to Paris, the tone of the tannoy.

Even the tinkle of a piano being played by a late night wanderer somewhere back in the year 2014. ‘Gavotte I think it was,’ I’ll tell them. ‘Followed by Chopsticks.’ Yes, I remember now. It’s all flooding back.

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