Vendredi XIII

Earlier this week, I found myself in Lyon’s 7th arrondissement, at a bar called l’Antisèche. I was there for L’UkeDunum, a new-ish monthly gathering of Lyonnais ukulele players (or, as they call themselves, ukulélistes).

I’d been in touch with the organizers, Cécile and Guillaume, earlier in the week via email. In broken French, I told them I wanted to attend their jam, but that sadly, my ukulele was still en route from Toronto, stuck in Brittany.

Cécile et Guillaume both assured me I’d be able to borrow a uke.

Days later, when I arrived at l’Antiseche, I asked the bartender if I was in the right place for “les ukulélés.”

“Ils n’ont pas encore arrivé,” she replied. Turns out, I was early.

So I ordered a beer (une pression), sat down, and waited for the other ukulélistes to arrive. Over the next half hour, eleven more people trickled in, all carrying ukuleles.

When organizer Cécile arrived, she handed me a ukulele, and told me I could use it for the night, and if I wanted to, I could take it home with me.

“Merci, mais ce n’est pas nécessaire,” I said. “Je vais récupérer mon ukulélé cette semaine.” My ukulele was supposed to arrive later in the week, hand-delivered by the sister of a former co-worker of Jenna’s, who weeks ago, offered to be a kind of ukulele mule.

But Cécile insisted that I keep the uke for a little while. She went on to explain that this particular ukulele came with a story. Cécile told me that this ukulele was a voyageur. She pointed inside the sound hole of the uke, which was full of names, dates, and stickers. It had been travelling across France, passed from person to person to person. The tradition started several years ago on an online Francophone ukulele forum. The forum is long gone, but the uke is still travelling.

Oh yes, and the ukulele has a name: Vendredi XIII (Friday the 13th).

There’s also a website where you can track the uke, and perhaps quaintly, V13 has a MySpace with a great little bio (translated):

It all started Friday, April 13, 2007. A benefactor named Moonuke proposed in a forum to give one of his ukuleles, a Tennessee, who would like to. Then was born the idea that the ukulele could belong to anyone and travel as from hand to hand. The adventure has begun in the Languedoc-Roussillon and then continuedalmost everywhere in Fance and in some neighboring countries such as Switzerland.

Vendredi XIII doesn’t travel alone. Inside its case, there’s a small green notebook that chronicles the uke’s travels. Before the uke is passed along to a new host, each person writes a little something in the book.

So, for a few weeks anyway, I’m hosting Vendredi XIII.

It’s been fun (and a good language lesson) to look through the green notebook and read about this little uke’s adventures.

But more than anything, I’m struck by that realization that so early on in my own adventure travelling in France, I’ve already become a small part of something bigger. When my time with V13 is over, I’ll write a few lines in the book, pass it along, and a small slice of my life will become part of a much bigger story. I like that.

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone.

Update (14 January 2012): Audio files from the night have been posted to the L’UkeDunum website, including this one, in which my voice is reasonably audible: [audio:http://theou.fr/lukedunum/fichiers/public/mp3/lukedunum_20120109_mp3/lukedunum_20120109_03_ruby%20tuesday.mp3]

This month’s theme was “Days of the Week” and this recording is en ensemble cover of Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones.