Monthly Archives: April 2012

This is What Austin Sounds Like to Me, Part II or “Un gaou à Austin”

It is now spring, getting on towards the end of it anyway, and this is one of my favorite times of the year in Austin.  I can drive with the windows down, music semi-blasting (I’m not young anymore, I’ve got to take care of these aural devices.) The sun is starting to set later and later, which brings le coucher de soleil closer to the moments when I meet friends for drinks or dinner, or, on rare occasions, begin a night of bacchanalian revelry with those friends that are better labeled bad influences.

Magic System is from Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and their music is called Zouglou.

There was a stint when I lived in NW Austin, around the Four Points area.  Sometimes too far from my preferred haunts in and near downtown, Magic System made that journey much more tolerable.

“La musique est pour nous un facteur de rapprochement du peuple…”
[Music is, for us, a way to bring people together…]

 Take the drive on 2222 from 620 into town.  Do it as the sun sets, or just as the lights of night start to outshine said gaseous giant as it heads to bed.  Lower your windows, and crank up a little “On va samizé.”

Let the opening notes blow past your ears and the wind blow through your smartly coiffed hair as you descend Tumbleweed hill, foot covering the brake pedal so as not to achieve enough velocity to attempt low-earth orbit or earn some sort of traffic citation.  Cross under 360, pass County Line BBQ and the music, already getting you in the mood to dance, rhythms you in and out of every turn and switch-back on the descent to Mopac.  Go ahead, play it twice, get yourself to Loop 1 to head south for downtown.

Now, having followed Mopac south, take the exit to go au centre-ville, and after you curve to the left, do a little down-and-up shift in the road, then back to the right (just like you’re dancing, man), level out onto 5th and keep Magic System as your copilot.  Switch to their song “Premier Gaou.” Nothing beats it as you patrol the streets, hunting for errant parking spots that are, if you’re lucky, only a few blocks from your destination.  The music keeps your hips primed for dipping in any concert venue, and calms the savageness of parking rage as you hunt.  Long after you’ve paralleled your way between an obnoxiously stationed Hummer and the Car2Go Smart that it dwarfs, despite their separation, you’ll be singing to yourself as you walk downtown

“On dit premier gaou n’est pas gaou, oh…/ C’est deuxième gaou qui est niata, oh…”
[Fool me once, shame on you / Fool me twice, shame on me…]

 

Now that you know the route, give your Sunday drive a Zouglou kick!


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I was doing it way before Honda thought it clever!

About a million years ago I was a bartender for a certain chain restaurant on the Ice Rink level of the Galleria in Houston, Texas.  To be fair, I exaggerate a little, given that a million years ago Earth was knee-deep in the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic Era, but let’s not quibble over chronological accuracy.

As a bartender in the Galleria, the shopping mecca of America’s fourth-largest city, I waited on, and otherwise served, all types—bartenders from the competing chain restaurant on the opposite side of the ice, cantankerous cosmetics counter ladies from the anchor stores, Kid Rock, foreign visitors from all over.

My ability to speak French, always at the ready like the Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly , made for a great way to connect to traveling Francophones (also a great name for a band).   At various times I met the Belgian owner of a Belgian restaurant in town, French families in Houston because their work in the petroleum industry or at Air Liquide forced them there, even random Americans who had, like me, studied abroad in France.

My most favorite encounters, though, were the équipages from airlines like SAS, Air France, or even Swiss Air.  Sometimes they would come in for lunch, having just settled in the hotel after their arrival at IAH; other times they would come in at night, a last soirée before heading out the next afternoon.  Especially when it was the former, you could tell simply by the uniforms who they were and what they did.  As to the latter, only a clever mix of eavesdropping and patience would reveal their identities.  And that’s when I’d spring into ACTION!

by Laurent Masson / AF from AF website

by Virginie Valdois from AF site

Yes, like the proverbial caped polyglots we know all too well, I would at unexpected moments  pepper my otherwise witty and engaging bartender banter with some French.  It always caught them by surprise, and always made for an interesting, but bonne, continuation of the meal.  One memory seared into my brain involved a group of four Air France crewmembers, contentedly chatting away as they awaited their food.  Upon its arrival, I began handing it out, delicately, poetically, my every move a testament to the art of serving.  At the dink of each dish hitting the table, the over-sized hamburgers and ginormous servings of grilled chicken were met with gasps and concern.  The crescendo arrived as I served to the last plate-less man an order of the baby back ribs for which the chain had made itself, if not famous, at least recognizable through a catchy song in a big marketing ploy.  The ribs spilled over the side of the plate, a bone-in barbecue waterfall, and the insane amount of food for this one man became more than menu photo and clichéd jingle, it became reality.  “Oh là là, mon Dieu, c’est trop, c’est trop!” he said in French, the others nodding vigorously in agreement.  “Oh good God, it’s too much, it’s too much!”  I smiled, too, asked in English if anyone needed anything, then turned to walk away.  With perfect comic timing, and just the right effect, I turned back and said to the man with the ribs, “Bonne chance!” [Good luck!] With that I scurried away.

The rule for most restaurants is two minutes or two bites, that is, return to the table within two minutes or after two bites have been taken in order to make sure that each guest is happy with the meal.  If there’s a problem, it can be solved before someone finishes two-thirds of her plate.  I made the requisite return, and was met with a cascade of questions in French.  How did I know the language? Where did I learn it? Have I been to France? It was a lovely conversation, and it ended with the rib-eater telling me “I must say, your pronunciation of ‘Bonne chance!’ was perfect, just perfect.”  Head swimming in ego expansion, I couldn’t say merci enough.

Nowadays I get to spring my French onto people in other ways.  I can’t wait for my niece and sister to advance in their own French studies so that we can carry on conversations that will escape the understanding of those around us as we wait in line for movie tickets.  I look forward, maybe, one day, to a girlfriend or spouse who speaks French, so that out at dinner, we can talk and gossip about the other guests.  Or better yet, discuss a piece of art in a crowded gallery or a big purchase unbeknownst to eavesdroppers and cloying salesmen.

I say this of course, but as Honda has shown, even those secret conversations might not be so secret.  And I have to admit, though I’m really envious of the couple, I’d much rather be the salesman.

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This is What Austin Sounds Like to Me, Part I

I recently wrote that, for me, Austin has a very unique soundtrack, in much the same way that Saïan Supa Crew will always be my accompaniment on the #31 bus in Paris, or Akhénaton the background to my treks in the métro from Line 13 in St Lazare to Auber for RER A.

Whenever I’ve much on my mind (what I often refer to as S. O. double M.), I’m wont to either take my dog, Finn, on a longer-than-usual walk, or sometimes a little car ride.

With gas prices what  they are, I’m far less likely to do the latter these days, but it still happens on occasion.

On these vehicled excursions, I really get into the thinking groove, the reflecting mood, on the drive going north on 360 from Mopac to 183.  It is exactly long enough, with a good dose of the Austin skyline mixed with the quiet solitude of the hills, to create the sense it’s only you, your dog, your car and possibility. Like a sumo wrestler eating for his next big match, the vibe is enhanced when making the drive at night.  And  though Ted Mosby is mostly right, this is probably the only thing that gets better after 2AM.

All you need do is cross the Pennybacker Bridge, the suns of other systems winking at you, the lap of lake waving you on, and you can stretch into the world.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:360_Bridge_at_night,_2008.jp

In just a few miles, windows down, dog chilling on the back seat, the running away into thought, singing at the top of your lungs, all is captured by one song: “Désolé.”  And sometimes, as if watching from outside the car, scarcely a few feet above, I imagine I’m making my own video for it.  This is just a minor escape, five fleeting minutes, with the crisp night air, Finn up way past his bed time, volume up even higher.  The world seems a little more conquerable as I leave the embrace of the hills to get back on 183 to head home.   Though this might be my preferred route, song and place dancing inextricably in my mind, to be honest, any night drive will do.  Try it once and see for yourself.  But try the song first.

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