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Baa Baa Black (oops!)Sheep goes to Paris

TRAVEL

"Baa Baa" in the Kochi patois means "come, come" so we did "baa" to the famed Paris. But we sheep in black skin encountered a different Paris. Definitely different from the one in books.....

The bus from Amsterdam to Paris, that afternoon, carried mostly African Europeans, a few gays and us. Even in there it was ghettoised, the African Europeans moved to the back of the bus for reasons best known to them. It was with a certain touristy avariciousness that my sister and myself fought for the window seat like a couple of school kids- we were eager to see everything. The bus halted at Gallieni on the outskirts of Paris at quarter to ten at night. The only direction given to us to get to a Hostel in the heart of the city was to take the metro to Commerce. The narrow tunnel leading to the tube was filled with poor immigrants- “scum” as Parisian politicos now refer to them. The tunnel was a claustrophobic scene of deprivation- a colony of people had made it their home, perhaps just for the night. Halfway through the tunnel an unnamed fear overwhelmed us and we turned around and fled back to the bus stop.

We waited in the deserted bus stop for half an hour, calming ourselves and trying to think of other means of getting to the hostel- but the bus drivers could not comprehend us. We had no option but head back into the tunnel, scared stiff we waded through the huddling, sleeping, sitting crowd on the cold concrete floor, to get to the train. A friend in Paris, Runu Michelle, later told us that Gallieni was notorious for its high crime rate- the reason why people in the city avoided it even during the day!

Like all stereotypical, devoted tourists(read sheep), we too believed that the visit to the Louvre Museum should be the blessed first. So religiously on the first day, we were there at opening time and when we finished, it was not yet seven in the evening. However down at the metro, the ticket counter was deserted and the billet machines were out of order at the world famous Louvre! And a man in a leather jacket was into the business of selling tickets. We worked the machines but it yielded nothing. With smug persuasiveness he badgered us to buy the tickets. We asked the lady in the adjacent shop but she refused to help and other brisk commuters had passes to get through the gates. And a Good Samaritan urged us to buy the tickets from the man in the jacket. Tired, hungry and foolish we gave in. We knew we would get caught and we did. At the next station waiting for us were The Authorities. The man had sold us child fare tickets and no amount of explanation helped. We were fined 25 Euros each. That morning for breakfast we had half a baguette and a glass of juice and it was just a chocolate croissant for lunch. A hot meal had just vanished before our eyes! And interestingly the man in the leather jacket had managed only a little more than One Euro from both of us. What can one buy with that? Not even a cup of coffee in Paris! We suspected he was an Agent Provocateur planted there by the Police, so that they can fine naive tourists like us. If this assumption is preposterous -then why weren’t there any dutiful French Police at the famous Louvre? Surely the cameras had recorded what had happened at the Louvre?

Every now and then we saw the Police round up coloured people and search them- the tone of their abusive language was frightening. We were told the French Police had a certain licence to search people without any reason. But strangely not even once did we see a White being searched. All the music we heard, beautiful Museums we saw, Cathedrals, Montemarte, Seine, window- shopping in the fashionable Parisian shops could not remove the feeling of black despair emanating from this famous city. Many of the Asian immigrants were worse off –their interiorised fears manifested in evasive mannerisms. They sat and walked hunched and avoided eye contact. At least African Europeans wore a “don’t care” attitude. (I beg your pardon, for in France they don’t use ethnic terminology – everyone is just French there!)

One of the first lessons taught at French language classes in India is “Je ne sais pas!” which means: I do not know. The teachers tell you: You will hear that often in France. Oh, you bet you do! And also the other line – “Don’t you speak French?” It is common knowledge that the French just hate the English language!
The Parisians have a fashionable snobbishness that they carry well on their persons. We asked a lady in Paris for directions and she snapped, “Buy a map!” At the railway station for the Grand Lines, the officials knew enough English to be sarcastic! When we stood in a queue to buy baguettes in a shop we were subjected to sniggers. You begin to Hunch or you Stand up!

This is the other side of Paris- the city of dreams! The place is exactly like how Hemingway writes it- romantic and beautiful. Well, it is the people who are different!!

WHAT A FRENCH MAN SAYS:

Christian Cailleaux, a French strip cartoonist and illustrator who has many albums like “The Impostors”, “The Third Tea”,”The Coffee of The Traveller” to his credit and is now working on an Indian album titled “Chai Masala, Hindi Monologue” writes in from Paris about the current situation there.

Since the bombings in London in July, the "plan vigipirate" has been reactivated in France. It means that the police is everywhere and can check the identity of anyone, anytime. It's a kind of "etat d'urgence". Of course, it's more to reassure the
French Electors than to be efficient. In this case, the police control the ID of people to know if they are in "regular situation" in France. Politics control the immigration from the south and the east, but even if they know that France needs people, they have to take some visible actions for the "bourgeois" who are very frightened. Well, it's difficult to explain in just a few words. But I do agree with you that it is better to be White than Colored to be left in peace by the police.

We live here in difficult times – riots in the suburbs, a political crisis and a lot of unemployment. Many big French factories are closing down because their managers employ workers in countries where the salaries are cheaper like China, East Europe and even India! The economy we knew until now is not working anymore and people are scared. France is a country of immigration and different people have been living together for more than a century. But it seems that it's not an easy thing every day!

But there is two different France living in the same area: the old one and the new one. The latter is younger, bilingual, tolerant, and curious. But is hidden and not visible at the first look and you need a guide to find it. Not an official guide of course, but someone living that way and will show you why for so many people, even for the French, Paris is an amazing city and Parisians unforgettable.

But I have to confess that Parisians have really bad manners and even French people all around France are frustrated with that. I regret that it was so disappointing for you. But didn't you really meet any nice person in Paris?? Not even one?

Comments

Hi there, I am colleague of your sister and she pointed me here. A well written post! It is quite unfortunate that one of the most beautiful cities in the world should have racism and xenophobia.

I see Islamophobia picking up quite a bit now. (Just like Japophobia in the days of Pearl Harbor Bombing).

This is the trap people fall into because of broad generalizations of human character. IMO, europe is dangerously posed for a return of the same mass emotions which fuelled the Nazis.

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