On Sunday afternoon I went to my first ever Meetup. Not long ago I didn’t know what Meetups were, although I had seen them from time to time in D’s calendar. In Paris there are around 800 Meetup groups covering pretty much every possible topic (I imagine London must be the same, though I was never aware of it!) Not wanting to miss out on anything interesting, I signed up to 15 groups, but soon found that some of the events had upwards of 50 people. It’s hard to imagine having much of a sense of group with such large numbers, and I wasn’t really looking for a clubbing experience.
Then I found the ‘Culture Lovers’ group. The next event was a free piano recital at the American Church! There were only ten places with a waiting list but I was promoted to attendee a couple of days before. I did my homework and read up on people’s profiles, which I thought ought to give me a fighting chance of remembering names later on. Roughly half girls/men, some French, Czech, Polish, and other Brit. The organiser was a smiley American girl called Montana (mental note: try to avoid calling her Hannah…)
To get there Citymapper suggested two buses separated by an appealing walk through the Bois de Boulogne, but I somehow missed my stop and had to get the metro instead, resulting in a run down the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, across the Pont des Invalides, and a hot, sticky arrival at the church. I was in time for the concert, but there was no young-looking group waiting outside, so I went in. Despite the church being already two-thirds full, I immediately spied a group with Meetup potential, and as I approached I could hear them speaking English with a mixture of accents, so I leaned over the pew and asked if they were the ‘Culture Lovers’. Well, no, actually, I just said ‘are you the Meetup group?’ and they quickly shuffled along.
The programme was Rachmaninov, Bartok and Liszt. I didn’t think I knew any of it, but then I didn’t realise that amongst his huge repertoire Liszt only wrote one piano sonata. I did my best to ignore the man next to me scrolling through pages of something on his smartphone. It was tempting to conclude that they don’t all love culture that much: at least, not enough to put their phones away. But actually it turned out that he was looking up stuff about the music, because he leaned over before the Liszt started and mumbled, ‘C’est le chapeau rouge… I don’t know how to say it in English’.
I was nonplussed. ‘Le chapeau rouge?’ He nodded quickly, showing me his phone, which revealed that he had said ‘le chaperon rouge‘ – Red Riding Hood. The piece began and suddenly I recognised the first eerie descending phrase as the music of ‘Marguerite and Armand’, the ballet by Frederick Ashton inspired by ‘La Dame aux Camélias’, which also inspired la Traviata. It’s not often that I know a piece of music because of the ballet. As well as seeing this on the stage, though, I was once lucky enough to see a rehearsal from the front row of the Linbury with the dashing Federico Bonelli, and it has to be one of the most moving, most intensely romantic ballets I have ever seen. But as I leaned back, preparing to swoon through half-remembered scenes in my head, I was disturbed to think that my neighbour might have been referring to the original subtitle for the work. Little Red Riding Hood? Could that mean that those menacing repeated notes used as the ‘tuberculosis’ motif were actually intended to represent the Big Bad Wolf? Perish the thought. Half an hour later though, I was able to ascertain that no, there had been a bit of a mix-up and the Red Riding Hood title actually belonged to one of the Rachmaninov pieces.
Afterwards, I got to actually meet the Meetup-ers. They all seemed very nice and friendly, especially Montana, even if they didn’t appear to know the location of the promised ‘hidden gem’ mentioned on the event page as the dinner venue. We wandered down the road to the river, but decided against an outdoor bar as not warm enough, and continued along the Seine for another hour before considering and rejecting The Highlander pub, a rather sweaty den full of rugby fans. Finally we alighted at a burger bar on the river called Moutarde Street. They did manage to find us a large table in the middle of the room, and served very decent reasonably priced burgers . Despite the fact that most of the group seemed to know each other pretty well, I never once felt like an outsider, and it was strangely refreshing to spend an evening in the company of people I’d never met before. Another throwback to Freshers’ Week? Yes, except that we started early enough to be leaving at 9.30pm and I was safely tucked up in bed by 11 🙂