Letter from Paris

Springtime allows Parisians to indulge their predilection for life en terrasse. Trees and gardens are blooming, neighbourhood markets and squares are coming alive, and the newly pedestrianised right bank of the Seine is busy with walkers and cyclists.

A rollerblading poet stopped to cadge some tobacco from a friend of mine as we were sitting outside a bar on rue de Belleville one afternoon. He asked us, ‘Vous allez voter pour qui, vous?’ – ‘Well, who are you voting for then?’ He proceeded to entertain us for fifteen minutes, often in rhyme, with a half-lucid, half-mad soliloquy about France’s political chaos. Later I met Sandrine, a neighbour on rue Ramponeau. Motorists were leaning on their horns as she slowly guided her dog to the pavement. Together we carried the arthritic creature (called Dog) back to Sandrine’s apartment. An anonymous soul relieved me of my wallet somewhere between the airport and Belleville. Other impressions from my first week back: the sheer filth and grime, the street kids, the contrast between the fifth and twentieth arrondissements, the tenderness, the harshness, the indifference.

Returning to the capital where I lived for two years during my undergraduate studies has brought a sense of fond familiarity and an awareness of some disheartening changes. Poverty and homelessness seem more acute, or at least more visible, exacerbated by the Syrian crisis and the arrival of so many refugees. One consequence is the feeling of powerlessness and apathy that seems to develop in tandem. A Parisian friend asked me what good her pity would do anyone.

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