There are lots of music festivals. There is only one Fête de la Musique.
Imagine those wonderful streets of Paris suddenly bursting into song, with every corner, pavement, park and square suddenly a stage.
It's like walking through a strange dream. You turn around a corner and find 200 people descending onto a little junction, drinking mojitos, smoking joints and dancing to hip hop booming out of makeshift DJ booths.
Then you stroll a little further along and a girl stands alone on the edge of a park, playing Vivaldi on the violin for passers by and the Parisians lounging in the brasserie over the way, sipping wine in the warm evening sun.
The first Fête de la Musique was in 1982 -- I'm not the only one turning 30 this year -- the brain child of former Minister of Culture Jack Lang. The creation of the festival was the start of something big, the release of a huge buzzing seismic charge of energy throughout France.
Every year on June 21 the whole country comes together and parties to the sounds of its own rich culture. From techno to opera, reggae to jazz and everything else in between, La Fête de la Musique is open for all to enjoy however you love to love music.
I arrived the night before, and checked into my hostel in the 19th arrondissement, St. Christopher's Inn on the edge of the Bassin de la Villette in the Stalingrad district. It's a happening, clean friendly place part of Hostel World, just a few stops from Gare du Nord with a lovely bar café that the locals enjoy as much as the backpackers.
After a quick freshen up I headed out to have a wander around Paris. I didn't get far. I'd been in too much of a hot and bothered state before to notice the scene, but now without my backpack I noticed the hundreds of people sat around this strange rectangular man-made lake, sipping beers, playing boules, jamming with drums and guitars or just chilling in that oh-so Parisian way.
I grabbed a beer from Bar Ourcq, a cool little boho place where you can get some delicious looking cheese and meat boards with your drinks. I took it outside and dangled my legs over the edge of the water in the early evening sun, as the feint sound of 'While my guitar gently weeps' drifted out from Bar Durcq behind me, perfectly surreally for the moment.
Later on that evening I had a great meal in La Rotonde, the restaurant and bar set in the classy round building at the foot of the canal, finished less than a year before the French Revolution began. The next night it would be jumping with techno ravers seeing out the last of La Fête, but on that first night it was cool and calm, very chic.
At midnight La Fête de la Musique began, and I was lucky enough to meet a friend of a friend who lives in Paris who took me to a concert at the Jardins des Tuileris, to see French band Revolver and kick off the festival; there was even an appearance from the father of La Fete de la Musique Jack Lang himself.
On the day of the festival itself I wandered around the streets trying to dodge the rain, with dark and heavy thunder clouds overhead and the occasional bolt of lightning giving le Pigal, Montmartre, Rue du Faubourg St Dennis and everywhere I zig-zagged in between some truly dramatic stage effects.
The rest of the evening was a real party bag of bizarreness. Strange sights and sounds and feelings all evening as I moved from street to street; from a techno rave in Etienne Marcel to a Caribbean street party off Rue De Rivoli and on and on and on.
Paris isn't very big compared to other capitals, but somehow it feels huge. There's an energy around it you can't quite explain, especially on a night like this. It courses around the streets and gives the whole city a bigger presence, a lively, feisty, tough, irresistible edge.
La Fête de la Musique sums it all up with a celebration of everything that's right about France. The soul of its diversity, liberation, multiculturalism, inclusiveness and joie de vivre is all captured in the spirit of the festival.
And speaking of music, at the end of the night as I sat rather tired and emotional on the only metro line I could find running at three in the morning, I listened to a song by the Jezabels, who I'd seen play in London a few weeks before, called 'Catch Me' -- just beautiful -- and these lines drifted through my tired head.
They might not be spot on, but it's what I hear:
And in the cities that I love
And in the towns that I love...
And, oh let go
To what you know, what they say
Falling in love with the world, over again
Which seemed to fit perfectly with how my night had left me and what being in Paris this time felt like. The closest the metro could take me to Stalingrad was a good 20 minutes' walk and it was chilly by then, but I really didn't care.
It had been a hell of a way to start this mad adventure of mine; through Europe, Russia, Siberia and beyond all the way to Vietnam. The day after the festival I made my way to Gare Du Nord with a sore head and a pale face, and got on the train to Brussels already feeling nostalgic about the magical night of music in Paris.
I've been to Paris a few times before, although it's still as mysterious as ever. From now on the tracks and trains are all taking me on into the unknown.
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