Two Months In Paris.
Here I am writing in the Market Square with a pot of green tea; bathed in sunlight, two days into Spring.
I’ve been fortunate to experience Paris in all weathers since arriving, all except the legendary blazing heat of the summer still to come.
Every day in a foreign country brings challenges, missions, daily achievements and failures.
The clichéd grumpy french shop assistant is only too true- yet is denied with every new French word that I learn and every new bout of energy and smile which springs up, defiantly from being scowled at or ripped off.
The words FOR FUCK SAKE which permeated my mind in the first few weeks most times I crossed a green manned road and nearly got run over are slowly fading away as I come to terms with being more patient and looking thoroughly before making the epic journey across to the other side.
France, Paris, is of course, the other side to the biggest thing that makes me who I am- Britain. Across or underneath a strip of water here it stands in all its beret wearing, cheese loving, baguette carrying, dog walking glory.
What amazes me constantly is how two places so near to each other can be so different. The style, the culture, the history, the pace, the buildings.
I have always thought that the mind-set of urban dwellers is reflected in the architecture and planning of the town or city which they inhabit. A short return to London a few weeks ago confirmed this. There, in the sprawling, spaghetti soup that is the often non-sensical roads and the higgledy-piggledy mash of its architecture, I felt my heart beat speed up instantly; coupled with the 4 days of family catch ups and parties (most notably DMZ’s 5th birthday). I had all of 15 hours sleep during my whole time. Whilst Paris is far less organised then for example New York with here grid system; thanks to the rather daunting sounding Baron Haussmann who flattened large parts of Paris to make way for his own vision; the streets in Paris are by far straight and neater than London.
That’s not to say they’re better- au contraire; until I discovered Le Marais, Oberkampf and Belleville: I found the streets to be somewhat boring and samey. It could be argued that this is also true of the style and fashion of the majority of Parisians that I encounter. It seems that one can spot easily a non-French person in Paris, simply because they are wearing bright colours.
Music in Paris is a funny one. One the one-hand there are an abundance of street musicians; good ones, bad ones, unbelievably ugly ones. There’s rarely a journey on the Metro where one is not entertained by an accordion, violin, or in most cases, a truly terrible singer with a keyboard. On the other hand; there’s little in the way of innovative music and relatively speaking, rave culture is seemingly non-existent in the shadow of the cafe and bar culture.
Today, walking through my local High Street, I saw the bum of a drunk (or Clochard as they’re known here); who was laying on the pavement surrounded by beer bottles and urine.
Whilst there’s something amusing about seeing a full on moon in broad day light; in this instance, the initial feeling was one of sadness. Unfortunately, homelessness (“sans-abri”) is a huge issue in Paris. I’m not sure if the number of homeless in Paris is more than London, but, seemingly here there is less provision and shelter for them. As well as the street musicians, rarely an hour walking around happens without encountering a beggar or tramp; the saddest thing I’ve seen thus far was a man sewing is trousers up by the River where many homeless people (such as the Romanians in the above photo-story) live in self-made dwellings or tents. These days I always carry loose change in my pocket.
As far as my photography is concerned- I have been less inspired to take photos whilst out and about than in previous time spent in other cities. This is largely due to a shift in motivations, energies and attitudes. I remember reading an interview with a photographer in which he spoke of preferring to let the eye be the camera; having a direct experience with the world; a desire which led to him making camera-less photos. This is undoubtedly something I have been choosing to do more often these days then in previous ones where I almost felt like the world and my memories of it would disappear altogether if I didn’t photograph it. When thinking about music photography I find myself thinking that we photographers can be so arrogant in believing that we can capture a world so abundant to the senses and so dependent on individual perception.
I do take some photos still, but largely, my time outside is spent looking up at the shadows of chimney-pots on white washed walls whilst simultaneously listening to the new sounds, new language and intonations; smelling the fresh baguettes and feeling the subtle differences in the temperature and humidity of the air.
Funnily enough, my most favourite of photos taken in Paris thus far have been taken with a broken-camera phone in Belleville.