Aires distintos

During a phone conversation with my mom before leaving Guadeloupe last week she let me know that I needed to keep this blog updated more often. Je suis d’accord ! I think that most everyone should have a blog of their experiences, but especially when travelling because that way other people can live and learn vicariously from you. If not your travels are somewhat selfish and self-absorbed, so I need to practice what I preach and start writing more often.

I am currently in Paris, and so far it’s been quite an amazing experience. Firstly, because I have never been to this part of the world as a conscious human being (although some might think I have travelled quite extensively, I have never left the Americas until now), and secondly, because of the stark contrast between Paris and the archipelago of Guadeloupe—both French, but really, deux mondes diferentes.

I will talk about my first impressions of each since those are always kind of fun to highlight and juxtapose… After falling instantly in love with the many beaches, the vast amount of all things green, and the slow yet relaxing pace of island life; the first things I noticed about Guadeloupe, specifically the island of Basse-Terre, which I lived on for the last seven and a half months, were the abundance of shops to fulfill your visionary needs and the driving schools on every street corner.

In Paris, awed instantaneously by the magnificent architecture; the river that curves purposefully through the city; the quaint shops, cafés, and alleys; the hundreds and hundreds of tourists as well as inhabitants speaking hundreds of different languages; I noticed the incredible amount of discounts that students can receive and how visible the advertisements for this particular service are. At every museum, every tourist attraction, every salon, etc., I see signs for a discount on a visit or a product. And I’m talking about a fat reduction as well—in the neighborhood of 20% to 100% depending on what the product is. For example, most museums in Paris are free to any French resident or anyone holding an EU passport who is under the age of 26. Another example is that at every hairdresser I have seen there is a 20% to 25% reduction advertised if you are a student. Of course, there are many other things that I have observed in these two places, but these two realizations were almost immediate when I entered Basse-Terre and when I entered Paris.

Of course I’m looking at this through my subjective point of view, but to my eyes, the symbolism of this particular phenomenon points to the central aspect of mobility (driving schools) and appearance (vision shops) in Guadeloupian culture, and the importance of education and taking care of the needs of students, in a great and expensive city like Paris. Interesting points to consider and I’m sure I could talk about at greater length, but I just wanted to leave that at that.

One particularity of being a tourist here (especially in comparison to being in Guadeloupe) is that there are lots of other tourists here (from all over the world). Additionally, most people have been to Paris, or know about Paris, and so it’s hard to write about things that are new and interesting, but I guess that’s the issue with globalization in general. Now, instead of talking about places, we talk about ideas and the intersection of people and places, and the cross-pollination of people and cultures.

I’m currently staying in a neighborhood of Paris (specifically, I’m at the Stalingrad metro stop) that houses a mixture of different people from all across the world. As far as I can gather I am at the intersection of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. After walking back from Gare du Nord the other day I walked past a part of the neighborhood that has a very large population of homeless people, I didn’t want to take a picture because I feel like it violated the already little privacy the people living there have, but in the following blog post the author talks about her walk through the same neighborhood and there is a picture of the encampment as well towards the end of the post: On another website I came across, a photographer did some shooting of homeless encampments throughout the city, which is also interesting if you want to take a look. He talks about the tents, given by Doctors Without Borders and how they have become a symbol of hardship and almost like a call to action for the city to take notice of the problem of homelessness.

After this particular stroll, I was immediately drawn back to my time in San Francisco and the work that I did with homeless youth. In SF, the city wanted to shield tourists and other inhabitants of the city from the many homeless individuals that crowded many public spaces and pan-handled on countless street corners. This seems to occur in Paris and in numerous other cities across the globe and each and every time I see this it makes me sick to my stomach. There is much work to be done, and I feel a little guilty because at the moment I am doing nothing.

In order to not leave you all on a depressing note, I will add a touch of stereotypical Paris to this post. The pull of this city at the heart strings seems to be quite alive. Yesterday, I found myself roaming the streets of Paris after a yoga class and started heading in the direction of Notre Dame. I walked by a guy who was putting on his helmet and about to jump on his motor-cycle and he gave me knowing glance and I flashed a quick smile. I turned the corner and sat on a park bench further down the block in the middle of the square and a few minutes later the same guy rolls up on his powder blue, vintage scooter and says something to the effect of “I admired the air about you when you walked by me and wanted to say, ‘hi’!” After seven months of horrible cat-calls, aggressive flirting, and in-your-face machismo in Guadeloupe, this was a breath of fresh air in the flirting and pick-up line department even if I wasn’t really attracted to this mec (guy). So, we struck up a conversation, he invited me to have a drink and listen to some jazz Friday night, and my faith in the human race, and men in particular, was somewhat restored.

On a similar note, I have to say that I have been lucky to know the kindest of people ever since arriving. Although Parisians have the reputation of being très fermes, I have not encountered this so far and have been surrounded by the most wonderful of people. From the first two nights staying with a band of squatters in what used to be a hotel (maybe I will write more about this in depth later), to where I am currently staying (thanks to a good friend in Guadeloupe that helped me find a place to stay with a previous roommate of hers), to just random people on the street, I have been quite impressed by how kind people are. Maybe it’s because Spring is upon us, or maybe it’s because people are genuinely kind, who knows? In any case, in this city people walk assertively, seriously, and look stressed all the time, but a spirit of congeniality is very much alive and well.