The City preserved in tradition, where red passion emits from the hearts of its occupants, whilst its vernacular tongue purrs a whisper of notoriety. Art claws up over street walls, unfurling clouds of golden cherubs and heavenly scenes through its interior. Untainted, the treasures of tradition are gated against the screaming alert of terror and asylum that collects outside.
If your lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it sticks with you, for Paris is a moveable force” – Ernest Hemingway.
Julian Green mentions how easy it is for a tourist to go from museum to museum whilst visiting Paris, but brush past the treasures outside. I’ve enjoyed the beauty of Paris superficially, but on this journey there was something more that I craved. I desired to understand and to identify myself within the city.
Our attic-apartment (Air B&B) was located in Bastille, home to a former prison emancipated in the french revolution. Hidden by a towering spiral staircase to raging neighbours, i hunched under wooden beams and a ceiling which parted to reveal the tops of other Parisian homes. As a global-wanderer, my ethnic eyes look for other ethnic faces. While researching my destination, my search for ethnically diverse areas was curbed, as statistics on ethnicity is not recorded in France. However, I was warmed by the the faces that i was presented with, and a glance shared our experience of the black diaspora.
The routine of a Parisians day to day is weighted in tradition – down to the simple task of a food shop; ‘You could never just buy all your food from one supermarket, there is a way. You have a butcher who you collect your meat from, a bakery for your bread & your own grocer for vegetables. To go against the grain would be to break tradition and you will find it very hard in France” – Sophie, A friend from Britain living in Paris.
This ticking motor of tradition is well oiled, but there is one area of leeway; A gap between 100 year old patisseries & 400 year old churches where eruptions of innovation can thrive, theatres where expression bold in its nudity can parade and where 50 foot walls act as canvases for identity to be unashamedly explored. Art. The role of art is what keeps France on the front peddle. What i experienced in French theatre, art and fashion was galvanising, a demonstration – a raw and unapologetic example of how identity and opinion should be nurtured and explored.
However with art having no rules, its hard to miss the effect of its lawless nature. Charlie Hedbo. This leftwing publication illustrated images of satire which incited a attack in 2015 that affects the city’s safety today. After a storm of terrorism struck Paris, killing 130 and injuring 100’s, the red-alert still echoes round national monuments and museums, with high security & armed police patrolling the streets. Another unmissable sight was the presence of immigrants on the streets, whole families not qualified to seek asylum in France, 5 to a mattress & homeless.
“In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator.”
My admiration comes from the sense that everyone is participating. I wanted to understand and experience what inspires the public. Evidently when expression is advocated so prominently, the city becomes an open platform. I thrive and long for this in London. However, how far is too far? Art is so influential to society and politics, should it be treated more tentatively & exist within perimeters? Does art need rules?….
What will i be looking for on my next trip to Paris?… Maybe a year ago i’d’ve felt awkward saying this, but id like to further explore the ethnic minorities in the city, to further explore the history and experience of the diaspora which separates us, to deeper understand and identify myself within The City of Love.