I spent two years living in Montpellier, France along the Mediterranean. And though I practiced several times a week at the local music conservatory, I missed having a harp at home.
One day, I had a bright idea. The following Friday I was scheduled to fly into Paris from London, then take the train back to Montpellier. During my four hours in Paris, I could stop by the well-known harp shop L’Instrumentariaum and rent a harp. Just a little one, that I could bring home on the train.
Fast forward one week. My flight landed in Paris, we rushed through customs, we jumped on the Metro and an hour later we arrived in central Paris with a map of how to get to this store that I had never been to before. A store that, I realized belatedly, closed early on Fridays.
Somehow we had gotten slightly lost on the way in, so I decided to ask for directions from two ladies who worked in the Metro. They poured over the map and then shook their heads. “It’s not possible to get there in 45 minutes,” they warned me. “But if you want to try, go this way.” Armed with this info, I and my three friends poured back onto the Metro.
Finally we emerged at street level and stood there turning in circles, bewildered. We needed to go north. Where was north? After circumnavigating the nearest building, we found our street sign and set out. Meanwhile I called the harp store.
“Bonjour, my name is Stephanie. I e-mailed you last week about renting a harp. Yes, I am on my way now… I know you close soon, but this is the only time I will be in Paris for the next month. No, I don’t have an appointment… your e-mail said that I didn’t need an appointment… I will be there in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes!”
I hung up and looked at my friends, stricken. “She said I can’t rent a harp without an appointment. Do you think it’s still worth trying?” My friends Scott, Beth, and Katy assured me violently that we should continue our quest.
So we walked. And walked. And tried to walk faster. Paris blocks are long. Finally we spotted the store and broke into a run. As I stepped into the classy glass-walled Instrumentarium five minutes before 5pm, I was acutely aware that my face was flushed from running, my hair damp with perspiration, and my clothes wrinkled from the airplane flight. Not only that, but I was dressed like an American, tall like an American, and wore (worst of all) a backpack.
Weaving my way through a forest of harps, I approached the prim middle-aged French woman at the desk and greeted her in French. “Hello, I called on the phone about possibly renting a harp?”
“You need an appointment to rent a harp,” she replied firmly.
“Yes, but the monsieur in the e-mail said I could come today and that you had harps in stock.” The e-mail I had received was in French, but I was sure I had understood it.
“Come back on Monday. We are almost closed anyway.”
“But I live three hours away and can’t come back for another month. Is it possible to make an exception?”
“Well,” she said, appearing to reconsider.”Which harp do you want?”
“Something with 34 or 36 strings.”
“Non. Impossible. I have nothing like that,” she shook her head.
This was not going as planned. “Do you have anything else for rent?”
“Just this one.” She motioned to a gorgeous little harp, about 2.5 feet tall, which sat in the corner.
“I’ll take that one,” I responded immediately, determined not to leave Paris harp-less.
She proceeded to question me thoroughly on why I wanted to rent a harp, if I knew anything about harps, who my teacher was, where I lived, when I would be back in Paris, if I had a French bank account, etc. Finally, she said, “Alright. I will need to copy your passport.”
I gulped. Because in fact, while I was running all over Paris on this mission to find myself a harp, my roommate was at the other end of Paris, dropping both our passports off at a foreign embassy with our visa applications for an upcoming missions trip. There was no way I could get my passport.
Once I had hesitantly conveyed this, the woman threw up her hands. “Mais non! You ask me to just give you a harp without knowing who you are and without a passport. Impossible.”
“I have my American driver’s license,” I offered. “Will that work? And a French bank account!” My other roommate, Katy, spoke up. “You can copy my passport,” she said. “I will vouch for Stephanie.”
Finally, with some delicate grumbling, the woman agreed, and we started filling out the paperwork. There was a security deposit of one hundred euros to pay, and as I handed her the check, the woman said, “If you don’t return the harp by 5pm when you come back, I keep the deposit and use it for my vacation.” And on her face I saw the first hint of a smile I had seen since entering the shop.
I smiled back, knowing that the harp was mine at last, and nodded. “Deal.”
“You’re lucky that I already missed my train,” she said as we wrapped up the paperwork. I looked at my watch; it was 5:30pm. She had stayed a half hour late for us.
With profuse thanks and promises of punctuality for the next time, we departed. My baby harp rode securely in a backpack-style case on my back. I couldn’t keep from grinning as we headed for the Metro, and I think more than a few Parisians thought I was crazy.
When we arrived at the Gare de Lyon, we found a spot in the corner to wait for our train home. I opened up my harp case and serenaded my friends in utter contentment until our train arrived.
Do you have a similar story to tell? I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment, or send me a message. You might also enjoy Q-Tips and Dental Appointments.
Stephanie Claussen teaches harp lessons out of her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you are about to purchase a harp and need an experienced ear, feel free to contact her for some advice! She’s love to help you on your own harp journey.