Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 17th 2015 Contents B8
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, September 17, 2015
Paris is weird. Perhaps not the first words you d
see in a travel guide about the city of love.
Although it s the third most visited city in the
world, most people experience Paris in three days---
taking in the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc du
Triomphe, a croque-madame and some snails.
Living here, you soon see what s going on beneath
the surface (and no, it s not that scene in Tarantino s
Killing Zoe where they all take heroin under the cat-
acombs.) This is a city whose raison d être is his-
toricism and whose environment is a firm resistance
to moving forwards. Indeed, it would rather move
Paris is a bit like those old French people who kept
francs under their beds for years after the currency
switched to euros, just in case the government brought
back the old currency---which had, by the way, existed
since 1360---and shredded all the euro notes and
melted down the coins. In 2012 the Banque de France
set a date by which anybody still hoarding Francs
had to bring them in to change them. Ten years since
they had ceased being legal tender, the bank estimated
that 50 million francs were still in circulation (around
The French resistance to modernity is to be admired:
the traditional cooking, baking, winemaking, striking,
taking the full month of August off and allegedly
bathing once a week.
But in Paris the resistance is less attitudinal and
more structural. Here we have a city with a young
population, but a subway system that feels like it s
descending into the 1920s; a communications network
which lacks fundamental things like fibre optics; and
bureaucracy that requires paperwork---where most
countries have moved online.
All very charming, but does it make for comfortable
living? Non, monsieur. Where places like Britain and
Trinidad try to make life easier, the French are keeping
Republic Bank FedEx d me a bank card from
Chaguanas to Paris within three days. Our French
bank took ten days to do the same.
But some old-fashioned things are attitudinal too,
and they will never change. Parisians smoke like
chimneys, for example. They smoke in cars, outside
cafes, over babies pushchairs and whilst pumping
petrol... It s simply a way of life.
"France is 50 years behind England," Rashid my
neighbour told me in the courtyard of our building,
"I have to go outside of my apartment to get a signal
on my phone."
"When will the building get fibre optics?" I asked,
"Oh maybe in one year," he chuckled.
"Britain began rolled out fibre optics in 1998!" I
held back the urge to cry out, and ran inside out of
When I was 15 I read George Orwell s Down And
Out In Paris And London. It was a strange time in
my life: a rebellious phase of epic proportions. I had
taken mind-expanding drugs and embraced anar-
chism, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana and the Beatles.
I had stopped going to my grammar school, which
my mother had pushed so hard for me to get into,
and had given up the piano and trumpet lessons and
creative writing that had won me competitions, grades
and positions in youth orchestras.
I was completely off the rails, wore clothes to shock
(women s fur coats, jeans covered in marker-pen
graffiti, erratically bleached hair, spectacle frames
with no lenses in them) and I was, loosely put, a
One thing I hadn t given up on was books. I read
Down And Out in one weekend, staying up late at
night and waking early the next morning to finish it.
The dirt, despair, hopelessness and the hollowed out
existence of poverty spoke to me. My mother gave
me no money anymore, obviously, so I took poorly
paid boring jobs with long hours to buy things like
cigarettes. Orwell s imagery of sauna-hot restaurant
kitchens and freezing cobbled streets are perhaps the
rawest portrayal of human existence I have ever read.
Now I have come to live in this city---a
place I ve visited since the age of five when
my auntie was a dancer at the Moulin
Rouge---it feels like a daydream.
Degas (my favourite artist) is buried in
the Cimetiere Montmartre nearby. Last week
I found his final resting place: a family tomb
with the words "FAMILLE de GAS," a small
artistic rendition of the artist s face, and
the years "1834---1917" written on it.
The next day, I received a request from
an artist of the modern British kind, my
friend and neighbour in Cascade, Al Braith-
waite, now returned to London.
"Grab me a handful of street soil/dust
from 10 Rue Nicolas Appert if you re passing
the 11th Arrondissement in the next couple
of weeks," he emailed.
Rue Nicolas Appert turned out to be the
street of the Charlie Hebdo building: scene
of the killings in January. Braithwaite intends
to use it in an artwork and I m excited to
facilitate its creation and at the same time
scared of being shot. Paris has been visibly
patrolled by soldiers carrying enormous
assault rifles since the attacks.
Next week I ll tell you about the cos-
mopolitanism of the city and how---contrary
to popular belief---the Parisians are nice
people: more open and engaging than Lon-
doners, and less neurotic than New Yorkers.
But for now I ll leave you with the French
word for fart, picked up from the eight-
year-old girl my girlfriend is babysitting.
It s "un pet". As in "je pète," "tu pètes,"
"nous pétons," "vous pétez."
Easy to remember, particularly when the
child keeps petting like a trooper.
The weirdness of Paris
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