Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hard Work in Hard Times and Buskers, Beggars and Bad People.

Tomorrow marks the date my parents were married. Both of them are gone now but we all remember that this would have been their 68th wedding anniversary. During the years of their working lives these people worked hard. It was the fabric of the prairie families in which they grew up, and it characterized their generation who went to war for freedom and filled the burgeoning factories when WWII was over. D-Day made heroes of those who came home and all those who remained in marked and unmarked graves. My brothers and I had high admiration for our parents’ work ethic and we learned from them.

Times are tough for many people once again in every country. People labour in customary jobs and others find ways of bringing home cash for necessities. During my trip in France I watched many people doing what they could to get by. Some of them I respected and with others I found fault.

I have esteem for Buskers who are making a living with a talent. We saw many while we lived in France and particularly in Paris. A busker is an English term referring to people who are street performers or street musicians. Actually a busker may also do acrobatics, juggling, comedy, contortions & escapes, dance, magic, mime, performance as a living statue, poetry or street art (sketching and painting.), and much more.

Excellent musicians filled the streets and the Metro (subway) system of Paris. A cellist sat in a Metro corridor at 9am and we saw her there at 9 at night playing astoundingly wonderful music. I dropped a coin into her open cello case. As we descended a flight of stairs to a Metro station far underground, we could hear the glorious sound of a group of eight men singing (Russian) and playing stringed and wind instruments. Sitting in an outdoor café or restaurant we were often serenaded by a busker who then invited a gift before moving to the next café. Street artists would offer to do a portrait on the spot. Sadly, some buskers were more like hustlers, hopping onto a waiting subway car with its captive audience and hitting the play button on a CD player and then rapping or singing or playing Sax, clarinet, guitar. These mobile buskers quickly moved with cup in hand to every rider and when the doors opened, hopped the next subway car. It was entertaining but I can understand how that could soon become annoying. I watched one scuffle between an on board busker and a rider that ended in a shoving match.

I had less appreciation for the peddlers of Eiffel towers that lit up, glowed, shone. They were like locusts everywhere. An institution of art peddling has developed along the Seine riverbank all with permanent locked storage boxes that open into display stands in the daytime, selling primarily cheap and trashy looking French paintings, and prints that looked like paintings.

Beggars were everywhere. I discriminated among these people. Some were clearly disadvantaged by disabilities. To some of these I gave a coin. There were old men who were unemployable in a down economy. There were women with children, destitute and compelled to try anything to feed their children. But there were also young men and women, often nicely dressed, cell phones or i-pods tucked not so discreetly in pockets and sitting on steps or against walls with a cup in front looking for donations. Each time I saw them I wished I knew how to say in French, “Get a job!”

I also saw too many people attempting to con unwary tourists. If you spoke English or carried a camera you were a target. One cute ploy was seeming to pick up a gold ring immediately in front of a tourist and offering as if having found something the tourist may have dropped. If the tourist held on to it, the con artist pressed for a reward.

Yesterday, we enjoyed a visit from some New Zealand friends who are staying in Vancouver for a few days and loving it. They told us that con artistry, begging and busking are alive and well downtown.

Mario Bruno is a friend living in Rome for years and when we visited him years ago we watched as he frequently gave a gift to a begging person believing that charity must not be abandoned because it is a Christian response to obvious need. I learned from that.

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