Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 10th 2015 Contents B8
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, September 10, 2015
In Tom Fort s book Channel Shore about Eng-
land s southern coast he points out that whereas
we call the sea that separates us from France the
English Channel, the French call it merely La
Manche. Which translates as "the sleeve."
Fort asserts that this because we romanticise our
Englishness and apply a defiant psychology to our
island s borders which have been invaded throughout
history by conquering armies like the Romans, Saxons,
Vikings and Normans; and non-conquering armies
like the Germans.
The migrants camping in Calais desperately hoping
to cross the Channel have friendlier intentions, but
they are held back by international laws preventing
their safe passage.
On Saturday there was a demonstration at Place
de Republique here in Paris, one of several across
Europe showing solidarity with the refugees and
asking governments to do more to help.
I should have worn a t-shirt saying "I m a migrant
too." Last week we migrated to France on a gruelling
trip but one with the comfort of legitimacy.
We left England in a car weighed down with
immense piles of luggage in the kind of rain usually
reserved for bank holidays. The windscreen wiper
settings on my newly acquired Ford Fiesta were not
enough to deal with the deluge.
At Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal we were simply
waved through the French border control. (French
customs officers check passports in Britain and vice
versa.) I held up our passports and the officer just
said "ok", smiling. It was a friendly, trusting gesture
demonstrating the entente cordiale and ease of passage
afforded EU citizens. His cordiality was misguided
though. As I began to pull away my girlfriend reminded
me that her Trini passport needed a stamp on the
visa page. I reversed. Whoops-a-daisy.
On the French side the sun was shining and we
hit the motorway listening to the French hip hop
station Skyrock which censored out the swearing on
the French rap records but allowed the obscenities
on Rihanna s Bitch Better Have My Money, including
the N word, to go uncensored.
On the outskirts of Paris I pulled over to fill up
the empty tank and almost confused diesel ("gazole")
for petrol ("essence".)
We then parked up on a quiet side street and waited
for a call from Canada s biggest radio station, CBC
Radio One, for whom I had agreed to do a radio
interview about an article I had written for Vice in
which I called for air shows to be banned after the
Shoreham crash, where an old jet plane attempting
to do a loop-the-loop crashed onto a motorway
killing 11 people.
Having debated the rights and wrongs of aerobatic
displays with Mark Miller, an aviation enthusiast
from Vancouver, I pushed on to Paris and eventually
found our charming little street tucked away just
yards from the beating heart of Montmartre and its
fashionable locals and eager tourists.
Hauling suitcases up three sets of stairs we could
hear an opera singer practising through an open win-
Later, as evening crept in, the courtyard outside
our apartment came to life as lights went on in win-
dows, French chatter wafted across the air, a child
played their recorder, people leant out of windows
to smoke cigarettes and the old lady opposite fed a
pigeon on her balcony. I had the snug, surrounded
feeling of living on a council estate (something I ve
always wanted to experience) but in a historic 19th-
century courtyard in Montmartre.
The architecture of the area is fabulous. The locals
are trendy but not pretentious. Cars and motorbikes
are rare. Cafes are abundant. And instead of the shy
English reserve I m used to, here people take you all
in. The French aren t afraid to look. It is considered
a compliment, not rudeness.
Waiting for our washing to dry in a local
launderette we went for a stroll, turned a
corner and saw the magnificent domes of
the basilica of Sacre Coeur cathedral. We sat
on a bench looking up at it and giggling at
the tourists, already imbued with the arro-
gance that we are home, not holidaying.
A few minutes walk down the hill is
Pigalle with the historic Moulin Rouge and
naughty sex shops.
The Metro system, meanwhile, is a gift
that keeps on giving. Not merely for its
cheapness but because it s an anthropolo-
gist s dream; watching the type of people
that get on in the different quarters and
suburbs, their clothes, their smiles, their
perfumes (occasionally eau de sweat.)
On one ride a drunk man roused from
his slumber and asked two ladies for the
time. "Six heures," they replied. "Ce soir
ou matin?" he enquired, and the carriage
Laws and regulations are less strict than
in London. People jump the barriers without
tickets and you see no traffic wardens hand-
ing out parking tickets.
I hope, however, that my Ford Fiesta will
be fine where I have parked it in "les ban-
lieues" a train ride away, where it is free to
On the morning I left it there, in a place
called Saint-Ouen, the neighbourhood
seemed peaceful with just a few mums
pushing kids in prams and old-timers shoot-
ing the breeze. When we returned late after-
noon to collect a few things the police
rounded up and searched some local kids
who had called out warnings to each other
as the van pulled up.
The adventure has begun.
ACROSS LA MANCHE
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