21 April 2009

Accordion army

Some months back, sitting in our den in Philadelphia doing office chores, How It's Made was on the Discovery Channel on TV. The show is pretty much exactly what the title promises, 3 vignettes in 30 min that show how things are made. Light bulbs, plastic trash cans, snack cakes, car batteries, high-end optics for microscopes, just about anything. The version we get in the US is a Canadian production, so there's a slight overrepresentation of Canadian products (with discrete, but hardly subtle, brand promotion), like hockey sticks, goalie masks, snow shoes, snow mobiles, and mountie helmets. There's considerable emphasis on the automation and sheer volume of production, which can either impress or depress, depending on your views.

Anyway, on this particular night, one of the segments was accordions, and I made some snarky remark to the effect that the accordion assembled on the show must be about a third of their annual production, because now that Miss America contestants all fancy themselves opera singers instead of accordion players and baton twirlers, who in the world still buys accordions?

Turns out the answer to that rhetorical question is the French. And more specifically, Parisians. The stereotypical soundtrack to any French film, the accordion is still alive and well here. Take the Metro: it's full of musicians, playing inside stations and on the platforms. Quality and weapons of choice vary widely, but especially on the trains themselves, the accordion is King.

Though I've not kept statistics on every single train I've been on, I'd say an accordion is in my car 3 out of 5 metro trips. In one remarkable stretch a couple of weeks ago, I had one (or more) accordions in my car on 9 consecutive metro rides. This isn't a metro-specific phenomenon, either: on a ride last weekend on the local regional rail, an accordion orchestra (3 accordions and a guitar) entertained/annoyed the passengers. I'd argue that my accordion-positive percentage isn't the result of small geographical or tourist-centric sample size, since I often take a metro to a far-flung region of the city, walk several hours, and take another line back. Based on these numbers, it's possible to back-calculate the number of accordions on the Metro at any given time.

14 metro lines x 2 directions = 28 directions of travel
Avg line length of 40 min, with average time between trains of 4 min = 10 trains per direction of travel, or 280 trains
Avg train length of 8 cars = 2240 cars
Avg trip length for metro user = 20 min
Avg length of accordion visit per car = 5 min (3.5 playing, 1.5 passing the hat), so 4 cars covered in the average metro user trip
Therefore there are 2240/4 = 560 accordionable car units at all times
Based on my experience, 60% of these units are occupied, so it is scientifically proven that there are 336 accordionists playing on the Metro cars at any moment.
Assuming there are 2 shifts of accordionists per day, that's 672 accordionists/day on the Metro.

Or, more specifically, 671 too many, give or take 1.

Maybe we keep her:

1 comment:

  1. I love this place, on the rue Daguerre:

    It happens to be next door to a viennoiserie that makes excellent mille-feuille.