I left Paris this weekend. It wasn’t even entirely intentional. I went to the flea markets (Puces) in Saint Ouen, an area just a little outside of Paris, and while I was there, I consciously crossed the street called the rue de la peripherie, and left Paris. And here is the first picture I took outside of Paris:
I only spent about 4 hours outside of Paris, but I was not alone. There were huge crowds leaving the metro – they were all there to shop, to look for a bargain. My first impression of it was that it was like Camden Town in London – they’re both to the north of the city, hugely crowded on weekends, and sell a hodgepodge of different items. They have also both become very touristy. Having just received a gorgeous new lens from my parents who came to visit, I was obliged to bring my camera around and take pictures, and I fit right in. There were plenty of Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists (in order of quantity), with their conspicuous camera lenses sticking out of their frontside.
It is often commented that the US has a race problem, while Europe has a class problem. That is not at all my impression of Europe, or at least France since my arrival. Race is very much a big issue in France, and a quick look around the vendors in the flea markets – they are all of a shade darker than the people who frequent the stalls. What was most surprising was the music that was playing in the background, and the things that were sold in their stalls – black hoodies with obscenities written all over them, hip hop (most prominently Alicia Key’s new song New York), and sneakers. I was initially quite disappointed to see this apparent homogeneity of culture among the disenfranchised in all corners of the world – I might as well have been in Harlem in New York!
I did, however, discover a few small stalls that gave me a uniquely ‘French’ view of how citizenship is conceptualised. I saw rows of sneakers that had the flags of invariably African countries painted on them by hand, in lovely glitter pens. It is, I suppose, a much prettier representation of the same kind of anger that young, second-generation immigrants felt when they burned down cars and attacked police 5 years ago. Even around the store, you could see hoodies, shoes and caps with the Algerian flag all over being sold to teenagers in France of Algerian descent, who feel closer to a country they have probably never traveled to, than the country in which they live in.
This has to be one of the enduring failures of the French state – their inability to absorb, assimilate and acculturate a home grown population. I end with a reference to the photo I took in the beginning of the post – how we think of differences influences the way in which we exclude items, ideas and people.