Ok, so I like Game of Thrones and I think it suits.
It’s been the first night I spent on the street, alone, in a totally unknown city without even speaking the language (French). Maybe it’s a bit over the top, but I love that phrase from GoT and I think it suits.
Truth be told I pretty much felt that way in my first night in Paris after having been in Carina’s house in Lyon. It’s been 2.350km so far, between plane, car rides and bus coach, in about 14 days, starting in Lisbon (5th of April) and going through Madrid, Barcelona, Lyon and now (it was 19th of April) Paris.
So once again I went to a city without having previously sketched a route or itinerary. In this case I didn’t even know anyone in Paris who was there at the moment.
‘In psychogeography, a dérive is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience. Situationist theorist Guy Debord defines the dérive as “a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” He also notes that “the term also designates a specific uninterrupted period of dériving.” ‘(from wikipedia, dérive)
I like this idea, of what would be an aimless stroll and how it has been used by several artists specially by situationists. In a way it’s the antithesis of tourism, you don’t look for monuments, places or anything else, you just wander and experience the places as they actually are. You see, when we move in a touristic itinerary, or place, you can usually see many more people doing the same, it kinda shuts you down to the real experience of a place, city or country, because the people moving there are usually tourists as well and the commerce that is set up around these locations and itineraries is usually to serve tourism’s economy. Even in our daily lives, we stop feeling the places, although it’s material, we walk through them without experiencing it – it’s just something that is in our way of getting to some place.
“the Situationists were trying to create a new urbanism where people could be free, not ideological slaves. An individual’s passage would not be a rush from home to work and back, but a meander, or adventure, through the city, open to all its possibilities…” Tony Godfrey, in Conceptual Art.
I arrived thinking I had a sofa to crash, from couch surfing but in the end, it seemed I misunderstood the talk. Since the girl with whom I had talked was already having a person there to stay she meant we could go for a walk and coffee. In the end I’ve met them both, they invited me to have dinner with them in the city, which I had to refuse because I didn’t have much money so eating at a restaurant in Paris was out of the plan, specially where we met, near Place St. Michel, a touristic area where prices reflected that fact.
I wanted to make sure I had enough money to get out of Paris so I had to keep a fair balance on my expenses. Since it was weekend I didn’t have Regus offices open where I could work so instead I went to stroll through the city a bit. I had with me a remote-release-intervalometer of Canon, that I didn’t use anymore so I went to a photographic shop near Monceau to see if I could sell it. When I arrived I took the metro and walked for a bit, asked to a store-owner to let me use his internet and I found the store. I was able to sell the release but at an awful low price. It had been with me 4 years so I also guess it was ok anyway, it had paid itself already.
So after leaving the couch surfers I went to stroll the streets thinking where I would spend the night. It all came a little bit by chance, to say the truth. It was already late and I went to find an open McDonalds or Starbucks, in order to have free wi-fi and search for a cheap hostel. Near where I was I found one, about 2 subway stops (and since I had a full day ticket for the transports), I went there. It was 30€ a night, in a shared bedroom. I was actually very tired of the travels, walking all day with my backpack’s and stuff, so I thought, screw it – I wasn’t expecting spending this money but I need a bed!
For my surprise when I arrived there the hostel was full, having only beds in all-girls rooms. I even tried paying half a night price to just use their showers and sit at the common room, charging my equipment and cellphone and maybe sleeping a bit, but the guy at the desk said it was impossible, they couldn’t do that or they would have to let everyone who asked for it to do it. I thought to myself – you’re an asshole.
So I went back to Monceau, it was about 11pm, where I had been earlier when I arrived to Paris. It’s near a nice park and it seemed to me to be a high class neighbourhood and hence very safe. It looked to me as the winner for my stay. After being there in a street bench for a while I saw a guy talking on the cellphone quite exasperated. He passed through me and after about 15 minutes he came back with another guy, a younger kid that shouldn’t be older than 20 years. They passed in one direction, then they did the inverse, then again and by the 4th time they had passed through me, even ‘though they didn’t look threatening in any sense, I decided it was kinda weird and I felt uncomfortable. When I saw them stopping again and returning I decided I had to search for another place to spend the night.
I also had to take a pee and I remembered another small square, about 20min walking that had one of those free public toilets, so I thought, it’s exactly there that I’m going. For my dismay when I arrived there the bathroom was closed, probably to keep homeless people away at night – and I have to agree, it actually works. To make everything worse from time to time it threatened to start raining so I ended up taking cover in those small street coffee entrances. I put my backpack where I had my clothes on the floor to serve as a cushion and I sat over it, with my camera and computer bag behind me. I sat with my legs crossed and just watched the cars and some people pass. Most people didn’t notice me until they were just ahead of me.
If I was sleeping or something it probably wouldn’t scare them at all but I was actually awake, sitting over my backpack, with my legs crossed and my sleeping-bag over them. It must have looked bizarre to say the least. Since I didn’t had anything to do, I didn’t want to stroll anymore with all that weight on my back I decided to write. I’ve been using a small note-book (not a gadget, a real one where you use a pen to write) Marina had given me when I passed through Madrid. It’s been quite handy I have to say.
During the trip from Lyon to Paris I had already prepared some texts (it was a 6hour bus ride – for 32€), for about 3 posts. Madrid, a forthcoming collective exhibit and another one about my experience with Regus, so I would take the night to write about this particular experience and start organising the post about Barcelona.
So, let’s go back to what got me writing in the first place.
Being completely by oneself. Has I have told you before this trip isn’t only about moving around and seeing things and it certainly isn’t holidays. It’s also, and probably much more than moving externally, about moving within. I don’t think of it as a search, because it doesn’t seem to me to be a search. I look at it a bit by the situationists perspective, specially the concept of dérive. Here alone, in a cold cloudy night, I realised how much it matters to have someone, to feel in a sense to belong to somewhere. Here I didn’t belong at all. I was completely alone. I didn’t even speak the language most people talked. I saw a few people on the streets sleeping and they were – at this moment – the closest to my situation, although, obviously I was quite more fortunate – after all I had a some place to go back to if needed, I had family, I had friends that have helped me in countless situations, I had skills, health and worth that somehow I could exchange for money. They didn’t seem to have anything at all and I imagined they must undergo a great deal of despair.
It is funny this happened the day after I had read a post by TK, on her blog, talking about a statue of a homeless Jesus. By the time I arrived at these lines I was actually feeling cool with my situation. And the day wasn’t bad at all to say the least. On my trip by bus I met some people, 2 algerians studying in Lyon and a young girl also studying there but from Lille. Nazim, one of the algerians, talked a bit more and I showed him some of my work. In the middle of the conversation we ended up in racism, demonstrations and the such and he told me, well, people think it’s lack of freedom here, but try to do any of that in Algeria. He meant it in two ways. One was the obvious control/censorship/threats by the government (State violence), the other was the lack of will to document it, by part of the international community. He said for instance that journalists took bribes in order to create false narratives and omit things happening, which is not a novelty at all, but something I think should be taken into account.
I also met Jeanette, she was funny – she actually got into a conversation between me and Nazim when we stopped at a gas-station – Nazim was asking me what I thought about the French people, because he obviously though them to be cold, almost unfriendly. I said that comparing to latin people maybe they were a bit and that’s when Jeanette got on board – That’s not true! she said loud and started speaking about it and how people outside Paris and even Lyon are much more friendly.
When I arrived at the station I went to the bathroom and there I met an indonesian PhD student – ok it looks weird but you know, it just happened this way – He said: “You don’t know me, but I know you” and I was like, what the fuck? But then he proceeded to explain he overheard the conversation on the bus and that his PhD subject was sociology/anthropology. We exchanged e-mails and we even talked about the possibility of him writing something for this blog. Let’s see if that happens.
After that I met David and “Justice”, two nigerians, one of them doing a PhD in economy and the other one living in Amsterdam but passing by for easter. They helped me come to terms with the freaking subway map of Paris – really – when you have no idea of how Paris is, plus, the friggin’ stop you’re looking for isn’t in the map, it’s tough to find how to get there. “Justice” was a rastafari, he told me he was of the good “vibrations”. We talked a bit about some things and then each one went it’s way. I’m ashamed I didn’t take their portrait but it was near impossible. I had all packed and the metro was completely overcrowded. I kept on having a lot of encounters, throughout the day. At Gare du Nord, I was eating an apple I had just bought outside when an old but quite beautiful and serene lady came to me asking where I had bought it. She spoke perfectly english and wasn’t british for sure. I explained where and she sighed – it seems she didn’t want to go outside the station – so I offered her one. In exchange she offered me some almonds and when leaving I asked her where she was from – and she answered in a very funny way – she pretended to be telling me a secret and whispered “American” like if she didn’t want the french people to understand that – who knows why? Probably because they have like this superiority posture regarding others, specially americans by the way they talk about the US. This woman was quite charming and serene, although you could see she wasn’t young anymore something about her reverberated peace.
So I had quite a full day before setting on the street.
I wrote until 5 and something am and then I slept for about 50min, with 5000$ equipment just behind me, on a street of Paris. I woke up, it was sunday, the streets were totally empty and the day was starting. I put my backpack on again and went for a big stroll. I think Paris in a way is very well designed, urbanistically speaking. I had no clue where I was going but I ended up arriving at Eiffel tower, having some more strange encounters and finding a lot of cool places.
The morning was grey and cloudy but it felt just great to know the night had ended. I had decided myself that around 10am I would go to Starbucks and find a hostel to crash. I was really in need of a bed for that night.
So to finish this post I will only add this: All african guys who passed through where I was staying during the night looked me respectfully in the eyes and wished me a good night with a smile – in french, bonne soirée – from the 20 or something other people, caucasians, one of them whispered a shy bonne soirée and another a sad face, all others either ignored me or broke eye contact immediately when I looked at them in the eye.
To be continued,
hope everything is fine, I’m writing this from Berlin right now and I have to say to you – I like Berlin!