A Trumpeter Under the Bridge

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A Trumpet Player under the bridge of Pont de l’Archevêché (1988)
Latin Quarter at the Left Bank of Paris,
(Notre Dame Cathedral at the background)

Text and photo by Anton Taday Prima

The Latin Quarter situated on the Left Bank of the Seine River is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris. Somehow, it might have already lost the bohemian reputation as the watering hole for many artists, writers, intellectuals, and students from Universite de Paris, metonymically known as La Sorbonne. Named after Robert de Sorbon who founded the university in the 13th century, it is one of the five oldest universities in the world including those in Bologna, Oxford, Salamanca and Cambridge. Its academic performance is recognized worldwide, notably in humanities and has been teaching theology and philosophy to students from all over Europe since the Middle Ages. Latin language being the medium of instruction that eventually gave the name to the quarter, thus Quartier Latin.

Latin Quarter is associated not only with great French writers, but also with foreign ones like Hemingway, Becket, Fitzgerald, Baldwin, to name some, who frequented and lived there while working on their master pieces. Latin Quarter continues to capture and fascinate the curiosity of many tourists aside from its al fresco cafés, bistros and brasseries that are scattered on the spans of its cobble stone streets and charming squares. These were once the soul of café society, but the habitues have changed from the poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud and writers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus to fashion icons Giorgio Armani, Sonia Rykiel and Yves St. Laurent. What used to be Descartes, it is now Karl Lagerfeld as the lingua franca.

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In one of my usual promenades before going home from school, a Parisian trumpeter was rehearsing in the narrow strip under the stone bridge of Pont de l’Archevêché. The nearby bridge connecting Île de la Cité and the Left Bank. Although, he was alone playing the trumpet, there were five other people standing around him and seemed to have been enjoying the “free concert”. There was not even the upside turned hat that young artists use to collect donations. The rich concert hall-like acoustics provided by the arched bridge is no doubt the reason why many budding musicians of various disciplines rehearse in the place. It is also a much quieter place where there are not many passersby down the quay on the left arm of the River Seine skirting one of the islets in the heart of Paris, the Île de la Cité, where stands perhaps the most famous cathedral in the world, Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The other day, it was a chamber music quartet, most probably students from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, or more familiar as Le Conservatoire, rehearsing familiar Baroque music repertoire for hours. Again on the following day, a rather warm day, I was again exceptionally lucky to chance upon another musical concert of various selection of trumpet pieces of classical gems, haunting blues and bouncy jazz tunes. I was with few other passersby listening to a solo concert that overwhelmed everyone’s heart and spirit with immense joy. When, the trumpeter made a little break, the few bystanders managed to come up with hearty applause with some unabashedly shouting “bravos”.

I thought it was the perfect time to ask the trumpeter for his permission so I could take some photos of him while playing. He nonchalantly said with raised both shoulders that it would not distract him at all and that I could take photos as many as I wanted as long as I try not to make so much noise. After a little while, he again played some more of James Harry and Louis Armstrong favorites that made the young French couple swayed with the familiar tunes. With only two or three shots, I thought I got enough so I could go back sit comfortably few meters away and enjoy just like all the rest, the remaining of the performance. His heart and soul was entirely into his music and no one among the crowd left the scene, which had burgeoned to about 15 enthusiastic people.

I did not know yet that time that I had already fallen in love with Paris. A fierce love that endures a lifetime.

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