Blue Skies Over Tango

photo: open air tango

On a canal in Paris, rehersal for the 'Grand Bal Tango.'

Sunday Reggae at La Villette

Paris:- Sunday, 30. July 2000:- The cloud cover is nearly non-stop. Holes appear in it for brief moments - so briefly that if I take a photo, I won't be able to use it because it won't be showing Paris like it is.

With the overcast, the light is flat; shadows, if there are any, are mushy. It's just dull without any foggy mystery; photos have no snap. Midsummer gloom.

This hasn't stopped me from going out. Weather forecasts can be wrong; there may be a surprise clear-up for an afternoon. The 'afternoon' may be so short that it's better to be out just in case. This didn't work last Wednesday. It did work a bit on late Friday. Today has a fairly good prediction.

A young guy named Alexandre got tango fever three years ago by accident in a café in the 20th. Thisposter: grands bals, tengo en plein air led him to visit Argentina and take a lot of tango lessons.

When the 'Mission Paris 2000' organization came along, he and four other dancers submitted a modest project in the youth section, and got a grant of 17,000 francs. About 80 such grants were made in all.

His group's proposal was simple, 'A free, open-air tango ball, on a wooden dance floor, with an orchestra.'

The budget he got was enough to put down 100 square metres of dance floor and set up a modest sound system. Since there are setups like this in Paris - although inside - Alexandre took a risk and doubled the dance floor's size, and got a trio for an orchestra.

'Tango lessons from 17:00 - the ball with an orchestra starts at 19:00 and continues until midnight.' Outside and free. This Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The real risk is the weather.

Whatever I was expecting, it did not look like the floor plan of a demolished warehouse, set in the top end of the Bassin de la Villette, where the Rue de Crimée crosses the Canal de l'Ourcq.

The modest drinks tent and the 200 square metre dance floor are a small island taking up only a fraction of the lumpy wasteland that has a destruction fence around it.

At tango lesson time, couples are stopping and starting as the music stops and starts. It does not lookphoto: boules, canal, quai du seine like much to watch, but the dancers are very concentrated on doing their steps - which seem to be complicated.

Just behind the tango, on the Quai de la Seine, more traditional Sunday sport is in progress.

There are chairs for a small audience, which seems to be paying attention, and there are plain white tables; I guess for the eventual cocktails. Except for the dance floor, the ground is about the same as that of an ex-destruction site with bits of concrete rubble, some sand and some weeds.

Out of all the people going back and forth over the canal bridge, a small number are coming through the fence to take part or watch. They look like they are wondering where the glitter-ball is.

Right! Out in the open air under a sky that is mostly blue, it is only from nothing the glitter-ball can hang. The budget simply didn't include it.

There are two bridges over the canal at the Rue de Crimée - one is an elevator-bridge which rises to let boats pass under it and the other is an iron-framed arched affair for pedestrians.

From the top of the latter, the 'Grand Bal Tango' looks like a country dance on the pampas, on top of a concrete warehouse foundation, placed in a canal, in Paris.

This is a long way from looking like 'Paris 2000.' It doesn't even look like the Paris in the brochures or the slick books. It is the do-it-yourself village of Paris, doing its own thing.

Alexandre deserves a thumbs-up for simply imagining the 'Grand Bal Tango,' and the 'Mission Paris 2000' needs some recognition for taking such a wild idea seriously - I guess as seriously as tango is itself.

Beside the east side of the Canal de l'Ourcq there is a wide, cobbled path and beside it there is a two-wayphoto: sunday kiosque musique, villette bicycle lane. There are a steady steam of cyclists going both ways, mixing it up with roller folks doing the same thing. This is the way to La Villette and I wander up it, with a lot more room than the greater numbers in the bike lane.

La Villette's 'Kiosque à Musique' this afternoon.

Before I get to the overhead rail bridge I hear some bass but I don't know where it's coming from. The further I go, the louder it gets. On the north side of the rail bridge, La Villette looks like the tip an island, where the Canal Saint-Denis comes into the Canal de l'Ourcq.

There are willow trees on the tip, and a lot of people under them. Along the Canal de l'Ourcq side there are yellow parasols, and behind them is a huge crowd lying on the grass and standing in front of a red-beamed stage - which is the source of the loud bass, and other reggae sounds.

To cross the canal, there is a complicated bridge, complete with lots of stairs and elevators at each end. A lot of people are using all of it.

The red-beam structure is the 'Kiosque à Musique' and it has 'bals' every Sunday, until 27. August; also free. The first bright weather in a long time has brought out a big crowd of all ages. They almost fill up the space between the canals and the stage. There are a few spaces on the grass still free.

The music is, I think, African reggae, and it is good as well as loud. The people doing it are 'pros' who don't waste time between numbers to tune up. One, two, ka-boom! Chunga-chunga. Vocals in French; mixed, reggae.

In the program for La Villette this is laconically noted as 'Bal-concert Africain.' Next Sunday La Bandaphoto: sunday kiosque musique, villette, buvette Municipale de Santiago and Ciocarlia do their thing from 17:30 to 21:00.

On Saturdays as well as Sundays in August, in the same place starting at 16:30, there are brass bands. Coming up next weekend, the American Horn Quartet.

In this weather, the kiosco des refrescos faces the 'Kiosque à Musique.'

The way the weather has been, today may be the only perfect day for it, so I've really scored well on this chance visit. I don't want leave this mellow scene.

A canal barge, trailing diesel smoke, chugs out of the Canal Saint-Denis and swings left around the tip of the concert ground - with its whole family of a crew as an audience, getting a brief blast of Sunday landlubber music from Africa.

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