This is not really the article that I was going to write this month, but things changed in Paris on Friday the 13th of November 2015. We are setting off to visit the Haute Fidelité Show at the Marriott Rive Gauche in Paris. I’m not entirely sure how I am feeling, a mixture of anger and defiance, but also sadness and admittedly fear.

TQBIRDSSPONSOR

We normally just spend a day in Paris, or are passing through on our way to some other destination, but this year, the show is a week later than usual and it coincides with my birthday, so we decided to make a long weekend of it. We had planned a weekend of Hifi show, eating out, visiting bars and hopefully going to see some live music…..just like thousands of people do every weekend in Paris. After the horrific events on the 13th we debated whether or not we should come to the show, watching the news we saw a Paris locked down with fear and crawling with army and police, but defiance won over fear and we are sat on the train for the 4 hour trip t the capital.

We are travelling first class, which is not really as flash as it sounds, the TGV trains are pretty nice anyway, but first class offers a more comfy armchair-type seat and a supposedly quiet carriage, just what is called for when you’ve been up since 5am… the quiet of the carriage though is being somewhat broken by the tinny sounding, autotune laden rap that the young guy across the aisle from us is listening to on his iphone and earbuds. I feel it may be a service to humanity if I lend him my X5 and Sennheiser IE800s with some decent music, but fortunately he alights at Vannes. This train to Paris, which leaves our local station just after 7am and gets into Paris in time for pre lunchtime drinks, is usually pretty packed, especially on a Friday. It actually seems fairly quiet today, but as it’s only a week after the terrorist attacks and a day after the French police stormed an apartment in Saint Denis, in the north of Paris, where the terrorist group were hiding out, that is probably not overly surprising.BIRDSSPONSOR600X74

We arrive at Montparnasse station which is as busy and bustling as usual…welcome to Paris! There are the usual army guys with guns patrolling the station, but this has been happening for the past few years, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of heightened panic, everyone seems to be just going about their business as usual. We make our way to Anvers via the metro and again all seems pretty normal. We drop off our bags at our little Air B&B studio and make our way out into the rain. We are hunting down veggie burgers and find the wonderful little place, VG vegetarian burgers. Suitably stuffed and now armed with an umbrella we make our way back to the flat via a couple of bars. We are only a short walk from where the attacks took place a week ago but there does not seem to be any hint of Paris being in shock and crawling with police, in fact there are possibly less police on the streets than when we were here last year…and the ones that we do encounter are very friendly.

Seeing as being out and about in the city doesn’t seem to be a problem at all, we head out for a few drinks and dinner around the foot of the Sacre Coeur and on into Pigalle, we are actually heading back round towards home when our night takes a suitably bizarre twist. We pass a bar, the vintage wallpaper is falling off the walls and there is art all over, some framed and some graffiti, there are people playing chess and there are vases of long stemmed roses on the tables. We of course decide this place looks too mad to walk past and go in for a beer. The people are very friendly and relaxed and we are soon playing chess and chatting and drinking with the locals. The bizarre part is that there is a piece of graffiti on the wall (see below) that looks very familiar, we think it looks like Aldo Vegas 777. Aldo is an entertainer and comedian who used to frequent our bar in Brittany when he was visiting friends for the local summer festivities…it turns out that the picture actually IS of Aldo and this is his local bar in Paris, he is the ‘Treasure of Pigalle’ and they even distribute his beer and have beer mats with him on! Of all the bars in all of Paris we end up in the one dedicated to someone we know from home. Replete with our bottle of Aldo beer we get back home for a good nights sleep before the show.DSOP7CALDOs

Saturday dawns and we are off on the metro again to the Hotel Marriott Rive Gauche. Again the Metro is busy and everything feels normal. The only difference to previous years is that everybody entering the hotel is scanned with a metal detector and bags are given a quick search. We had thought that the show may be cancelled or that there would be less attendees, or perhaps overseas exhibitors would stay at home. Speaking to some of the guys from Haute Fidelité they did say that they were feeling incredibly lucky because the show was a week later than it usually is. Everyone seems to have turned up and is in fine form and there are also plenty visitors, French audiophiles are not to be kept away from the latest hifi gems by mere terrorists! We enjoy listening to some top class systems including a bit of a home from home moment as the DEA room are demoing the Avantgarde Acoustic Duo XD, I suppose its the mark of fantastic hifi when you sit in a room at a show to listen to music on the speakers that you have yourself!DSCF6607s

There does seem to be less people visiting Paris from outside of France, perhaps put off by the media hype that seems intent on keeping people away. Chatting to our friend Anna of O2A cables she reveals that she flew in from Vienna and there were just 10 people on a usually packed flight. This show is a lot more bijoux than Munich and is really doable in a day, however we get sidetracked by G&Ts and chatting in the bar so we are coming back tomorrow for an hour or so. Dinner is organised by the Living Leedh club, a group of French audiophiles who support Gilles Millot, the creator of the rather fabulous Leedh loudspeakers. Gilles’ system was one of the highlights of the show for me, his E2 speakers defy their small size and the set up with the two subs is very impressive, they do that magical thing of totally disappearing into a seamless sound-stage.DSCF6684s

Sunday is our last full day in Paris so we head out to the show bright and early and finish off the rest of the rooms. It is very easy at hifi shows to be seduced by the big, show-stopper systems but a notable one for me was a Technics ‘bibliothèque’ (as the guy running the room referred to it as) system. I rather like it if you walk into a room with several speakers set up and can’t immediately pinpoint which is playing, the little SB-C700 loudspeakers and the smaller electronics set up were doing a cracking job and are a tempting smaller room option.DSCF6776s

Other systems that stood out in my memory were the KEF blades running on PASS Labs amps, not a combination I had heard before but very enjoyable indeed. The Triangle and Atoll room was a great celebration of French brands and I was particularly taken with the room that had Fostex speakers running off Accuphase electronics. All in all, it was a very successful show. There was a great turnout and everyone seemed in good spirits. Had the show been cancelled or people stayed away it would have just been giving in to what the terrorists were trying to achieve, to make us live in fear and not enjoy the freedom that we have. Instead of presenting our usually Hifi Pig Loves You award to a particular room or brand, we give it to Haute Fidelité magazine themselves and to all the people that exhibited and attended and made the show what it should be, a celebration of music and hifi…it seemed to be very fitting.DSCF6791s

We spend Sunday afternoon continuing our walk around Paris, it’s a cold but sunny day so we walk through several districts, stopping at different places on the way including going up to the Sacre Coeur to look over the city. There are still plenty of tourists around at the tourist hot-spots but it is not quite as packed as usual, however places are still busy. We pay a visit to the Place De La Republique, here things feel different to the rest of the city as people come to pay their respects to those that died last week, but there is still a sense of purpose and activity with volunteers organising the tributes and they seem to be collecting and cataloguing the paper notes and messages to keep as a permanent reminder of what happened. There is a banner on the statue in the centre of the square that proclaims ‘still not scared’, Paris is giving the terrorists a one fingered salute. The square is ringed by what can only be described as a media circus, reporters and camera teams from all around the world have set up camp here, perhaps they would give a more rounded view of how Paris is fairing if they took their cameras out into the city where life is obviously carrying on.DSCF6842S

We end our Parisian trip on Monday, with a lovely Italian meal before we board the train at Montparnasse. We reflect on how lucky we are to be in a city that refuses to be crushed by terrorist attacks. We can still go out, eat, drink, meet new people, listen to music and enjoy life. A small note, tied to a tree in the Place De La Republique, summed up the feeling of the weekend for me, it said ‘smile, and Paris smiles with you’.

Linette SmithBIRDSSPONSOR600X74

You must be logged in to leave a reply.