We met Eric on our third day in Paris. It was evening. We had spent the day doing the classic tourist rounds, with morning at the Versailles, a late afternoon stop at the Eiffel Tower, and then the long walk up from the Champs Elyse to Monmarte, where the architecture was lovely and the vaunted street artists would have been kicked out of Disneyland for incompetence.
Eric was set up at the base of the steps that lead up to Sacre Couer, with his violin case at this feet, playing gypsy tunes on a Hardanger fiddle. That was a feat of cultural integration about the equivalent of Sioux in full headdress playing accordion, but Eric made it work.
We sat down on the steps to listen. Raven said, “What is he playing? That isn’t a regular violin.”
“Hardanger fiddle, from the Hardanger region of Norway. An old Norwegian fellow in the town where I grew up used to play one.” It had four sympathetic strings that ran beneath the fingerboard, an extended pegbox, and instead of a scroll it had the carved head of a stylized lion. It was heavily decorated with intricate ink drawings.
“Where is Hardanger?” Raven wanted to know. I explained that it was near Bergen, and she said, “Will you take me there?”
Her eyes were glowing. She had been frenetically gay since we reached Paris. I enjoyed her happiness and her energy, but there was an underlying note of falseness to it. I said, “Sure. Tomorrow?”
“No, silly. Someday.”
“Someday it is.”
Monmarte is a hilltop community where the steps of Sacre Coeur form a sort of informal amphitheater for street musicians. As Eric played on, Paris made a hazy backdrop behind him. He was quite good, and it had been a long day. We were both content to watch the sun go down and listen. When he finally finished his set, Raven whispered,”Can we afford something for him?”
“Sure. Street musicians have a hard life.” I passed her a twenty franc note and followed her over as she dropped it into the case.
He looked up, then looked harder. Raven is spectacular. He said, “Grazie, Signorina.”
“Not Italian,” I informed him. “American Hispanic.”
“Ah. Then gracias and thank you.” He looked at me and added, “You are both American?”
“Of you, I would have said Scottish.”
“Scottish ancestry, American nationality. I’m Ian Gunn and this is Raven Cabral.”
He said he was charmed, but I’m sure he meant by Raven. His name was Eric Sangøy. He spoke English with a clipped British accent, for which he apologized. In Norwegian high schools, he explained, one took either British English or American English as a second language, and he had chosen British.
“Raven and I were admiring your fiddle, as well as your playing,” I said.
Eric passed it to Raven for inspection. It was well worn but the ink drawings were supple and intricate. He explained where it came from and how it differed from a violin. Raven listened intently, as if I had not just explained. more tomorrow