When I was still in Syracuse, the director of the music school told me that she also had the idea to move to France to teach and study music, but decided that she wouldn’t be able do in France what she did in the States. She was a piano instructor. I felt that I had a diversified enough curriculum of guitar styles that relying on just classic guitar wouldn’t be necessary. There were some surprises. There are a lot of fine musicians around who play varied styles of popular music.
In terms of being a private music instructor my big problem is and was the public school system. It is an excellent system and well thought out for teaching academics, especially mathematics and languages. Students here have to take math all the way from the beginning to the end. Not only that, but they usually end up taking several foreign languages. The only problem is that they have little time for extracurricular activities and that is where I usually made my living. I taught my own children to play the instrument, but it got to a point with all of them that they would have to choose between music and the leisure time that they needed very badly. I didn’t have the heart to insist and play the disciplinarian.
France is known for the quality of its artistic and creative community. People with extraordinary talent can get into the conservatories and art schools, but the average guy doesn’t end up knowing too much. We have season tickets to the theater and frequently when a classic play is being performed, the street in front of the theater will be packed with school busses. The students might study a play by Molière and arrangements are made to see it. Good program, but it is seldom the same with musical events. That might be a problem because of space. We have an excellent symphony orchestra here and the auditorium is almost always packed with subscribers, but I have never seen any school buses around.
To my knowledge the only time young people are introduced to music in the public school is at the level which corresponds to Jr. High School in the States. There is a long tradition here of giving that teacher hell. Frequently, when people speak of music class their faces take on a certain diabolical glee as they think of the hard time they gave the teacher. The parents don’t care as they did the same thing themselves. The grade you get in music is going to have little influence at your graduation.
There are municipal conservatories and they occasionally do some interesting things, but time to practice is remains a problem.
So my wife had rented a room in an agreeable part of Paris in the fifteenth arrondissement. We only planned to stay there until we could find a place to fix up! It was a nice area and I had an agreeable introduction to life in France. We eventually bought two small apartments in a near suburb. They were really small. We turned them into one average sized apartment with a kitchen-living room and a bed room for us and another that would double as a washroom and a place for any child who happened to arrive.
The place was a mess: there were wires hanging from the ceiling, the plumbing had to be replaced and there was so little space in the bedroom that I had to build a bunk bed with a closet underneath so we would have a place to hang our clothes. Some in the family had some expertise in electricity and they installed the wiring. An inspector came out to see that it was all correct and we were in business. We spent about two years working on that place when we weren’t at our jobs.
We were now living in the famous “red ring” around Paris. That is to say that the towns had elected a communist mayor. Having lived through the McCarty era, that intrigued me. In my childhood there had supposedly been a red under every rock and now they were in all the apartments in town and doing subversive things like going to the grocery store and taking their kids to the swimming pool. In fact, they were like the people I grew up with. Their social values were very much to the right and their pocket books were with the left. I heard the same welfare queen stories that I heard in the States. Only there, it was the Arab population that was on the dole and taking the money out of their pockets. Otherwise they were agreeable, friendly people who very rarely talked about politics. Kid number one made the scene and when she was old enough she went to join her roommate the washing machine. No, we didn’t use it while she was sleeping.
Several years down the road my wife heard of an opportunity for a job in a rather large town in Brittany which is in the west of France. By this time we were tired of the pollution from the beltway which was a block and a half away from where we lived. We didn’t get much noise, but the air quality wasn’t the best.
She got the job just before the second girl made her debut in our world. We arrived in the house we rented with a small child and a baby. Somebody had a spare kitten around so we added that to the family and then another. Since, we have always been a two cat family.