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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Little Piano Shop on the Left Bank

Sometimes I forget how I became aware of a particular book.  It is easy to recall if the book I am reading is on the New York Times best seller list.  I regularly read the New York Times Sunday Book Review.  I also get book suggestions from Harper’s magazine or the Atlantic Monthly magazine, or Vanity Fair magazine.  These magazines all have good recommendations for books. Sometimes I will be wandering through the library and will spot an older book, I will read a page or two and take it home with me. I keep a stack of books in the Bud Cave.  Usually there are 10 to 20 or so books in the stack. When the Lovely Sharon is in Salt Lake this stack causes her angst. She is a very neat and orderly person and her vision of my Bud Cave book stack is that it is a disorderly pile of books creating an eyesore in the Bud Cave.  For me, my stack is like an old friend.  I add to it, I take some books away.  Sometimes I look through it just to see what it contains. Some books have been there for a year or more. Others were added more recently.  Most have not been read but there are a few in the stack that I have read but intend to peruse again so they remain in the stack.
Sometimes I have find a book in my Bud Cave stack that I don’t remember buying or if I do remember buying it, I don’t remember why I bought it or how I became aware of it.  This is especially true of those books that were written more than five or six years ago.  A couple of weeks back, I pulled out a trade paper back out of my stack.  The book was called The Little Piano Shop on the Left Bank.  The book is non-fiction and was published in 2001.  The copy I had was obviously used and the pages a little yellow.  I assume I purchased it online from Amazon but I am not certain.  I read it over a week or so while I was reading some other books and tied up on other matters.

 I loved the book.  It was written by T.E Carhart, an American who, at least at the time he wrote the book, lived in Paris with his wife and children.  Most days Mr. Carhart walked his two young children to school and he would walk past a shop called “Desforges Pianos”.  Carhart had played the piano in his youth and was intrigued by the shop.  One thing I learned is that in Paris the proper word for such a shop is “Atelier”.  I had to look up the definition of atelier and learned that Atelier is the French word for "workshop", and in English is used principally for the workshop of an artist in the fine or decorative arts.

Initially, the owner of the atelier was standoffish and would not allow Carhart beyond a curtained off portion of the atelier.  Carhart continued to visit the atelier and eventually met Luc, a worker in the shop.  Carhart informed Luc he was considering buying a piano. Luc informed him that in order to be a customer he had to be recommended by another customer.  Obviously a very odd requirement for a commercial establishment.  Ultimately Carhart was recommended by an acquaintance and was allowed beyond the curtain to an area that had dozens of pianos of all types and kinds.  The atelier was used to buy and sell pianos but also to repair and, in some instances, rebuild the pianos.  They were stacks of wood and stacks of piano parts around the room.  There were upright pianos, baby grands, medium size grands and concert hall sized grands.  The pianos were black, white, brown, natural wood and many other colors.

During the period written about in the book, Luc bought the shop from the owner.  After Luc became the owner of the atelier, Carhart and Luc’s friendship grew as Carhart’s visits continued.  Pianos would arrive at the shop, after some work they would be sold by Luc and would leave the shop.  The relationship of the men grew over time as they discussed individual pianos that arrived and left and they discussed life in general.  The discussion about the pianos, the description of the inner workings of the pianos, the strings, the sound board, the pedals, the type of wood used was surprisingly interesting.  As I read the book I could picture the cluttered workshop and smell the sawdust in the air. 

Carhart eventually purchased a piano from the shop after an emotional struggled as to what piano was the right piano for his apartment.  He started playing again, took lessons, attended master piano instruction classes and a good part of his life came to revolve around pianos, lessons and music.

This sounds like a strange book and a strange subject but I am fond of books that teach, that have passion and that are well written.  Give this book a try if you can find a copy.

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