Frenchman’s magic wows pedestriansStreet artists, hawkers and performers are all native species of Seoul’s parks and lanes. Seldom, however, do you find a street magician. Even more rarely do you find a French magician conjuring tricks for passers-by.
Enter Gerard Lasnier, age 53. Hometown: Paris.
In a small park insulated by bamboo stalks in Insa-dong, north Seoul, approximately 20 people have gathered around the short, white-haired gentleman with a friendly face.
The magician pours milk from a glass into a black cloth hat, then flips the hat to reveal not a drop of the liquid. He then grasps a 50-won coin in his left hand, while circling the right hand over it for a bit of an abracadabra effect.
His palm opens and voila! There lies a 10-won coin. The audience reacts enthusiastically, all claps and smiles. Mr. Lasnier beams at the reception he has not-so-magically earned.
As more and more people ― children, students, elderly folk ― gather around him, the sophistication of the Frenchman’s deception grows. He places bits of gold paper into his mouth that come out moments later as a train of multicolored paper. He mixes English with Korean as he performs, inviting onlookers to participate. Some youngsters record his acts on their digital cameras. Others just stare, their mouths agape. A look of bewilderment and delight unifies the crowd, as they cry “Woooh-Ah!” when Mr. Lasnier displays his tricks.
“This is so fun; I didn’t know he performed here in Insa-dong,” Jang Seung-jun, 26 says. His girlfriend, Son Ji-hyeon, says skeptically, “But I could see a moment of hesitation during tricks, which makes me think this is all technique.”
Mr. Lasnier, who is divorced and has four children, has lived in Seoul on and off since late 2001. Over the past five years, his magic stunts have turned up at clubs, hotels ― and the streets, of course ― of Japan, Vietnam and Morocco.
“Ah! It’s only in Korea that I have trouble doing magic in the streets,” Mr. Lasnier says, shaking his head. “The police, no trouble. But Gongik [district servicemen], they are always telling me to go someplace else.”
Mr. Lasnier speaks at a rapidfire clip in his thick French accent. When he moves, it is also hurriedly but silently, much the way he uses his hands for magic.
With sporadic performances at the Ritz-Carlton, Shilla and Marriott hotels breaking up the street hustle, Mr. Lasnier spends about three months in Seoul performing magic, then jets down to Thailand and Vietnam for five or six months before starting the cycle over again.
Chance brought this artisan of deception to Seoul and his life has been a series of leaving things to fate.
He may not be as great an illusionist as David Copperfield, but neither is he some average out-of-work street performer. Monsieur Lasnier is a magician of the streets, a true vagabond.
“I play magic because many people like magic,” he says.
by Choi Jie-ho