THIS CONTEST IS LONG GONE. Great Big Travel Literature Giveaway nearing end. See bottom of post for today’s prize. And it is time to hint at the Final Grand Prize, to be given away next Friday, January 29–it is a stylish way to carry all those travel books.
France on Friday
Book: The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart
This small book introduces Paris and Parisians through Thad Carhart’s fascination with pianos. Early on, he says in a Q and A in the back of the paperback edition I read, that he had learned, “it’s almost impossible to gain access to the private, nontouristy side of things without a personal introduction, and here was a whole world I virtually stumbled into. “
From his first inquiries at the mysterious shop with piano tuning instruments in the front, and pianos being carted in and out, he learns that you need to know somebody to get in certain doors. Particularly, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. His love of music and pianos eventually opens doors to the piano shop, to owning a piano, to piano lessons, and finally into the Italian factory of Paolo Fazioli, who has the reputation of making the best pianos in the world.
An excellent writer, he is able to convey the finest distinctions between the shapes and particularly the sounds of the myriad pianos that the shop’s owner, Luc repairs, falls in love with, and sells.
The writing of this book resembles the lessons of a musician. Any pianist preparing a piece of music works on that piece of music for hours and days and weeks, and repeats the same phrases over and over, but always with a slightly different touch, rhythm, accent. In the same manner, Carhart talks about piano after piano after piano. A lesser writer would put us to sleep with repetition. Carhart finds new ways to express the descriptions so that it is always interesting and evocative.
His love of pianos comes close to obsession. From the time he was a boy, he “collected” pianos, the way other boys collect signatures on baseballs, or shiny rocks. While most people travel to look at the scenery, or the people, or perhaps the art, little Thad, and later his adult self, never saw a piano that did not make him curious. He would sneak across the restaurant, or into the hotel ballroom, to look under the covers and discover the make. If possible, he would play a few notes.
His fascination is contagious, and by the time he gets to the more arcane descriptions of music and of the physiology of a piano toward the end of the book, the reader has been thoroughly hooked and follows along gladly.
But the book is always as much about Parisians as it is about pianos. An American writer finds he has to rein in his American tendency to blurt out questions and rush acquaintanceship. Eventually he shares his life with a small group of people who gather around a piano and share a baguette and a bottle of wine at the end of the day.
I have seen this book mentioned several places, and I believe a reader first recommended it here. If it was you, thank you. While not a travel book, this is a fine read for travelers to France.
Are you a pianist? Do you lust after a grand piano? What brand? Have you ever heard of the Fazioli piano?
The Giveaway prize today stays with our Road Trip theme. American Fugue by Alexis Stamatis rolls across America with a mystery/thriller that may or may not be the creation of the Greek author who is the threatened main character. See my discussion of American Fugue here. And review the contest rules here.