This is the post excerpt.
This is from an expat, coming from a smallish city with lots of nature, now living in France’s biggest metropolitan area. Everybody seems to love Paris – I don’t. So, to add some counterweight to the general narrative I am writing about how I perceive this giant, crowded, grey centre of everything.
What I write is therapeutic. It helps me vent. Don’t look for factual accuracy here.
Go to the bathroom every time before taking the metro. You don’t want to have to go when somebody just jumped on the tracks and you’re stuck between two stops for half an hour.
– Walk alone – there is not enough space for you and your friend to comfortably stroll around together.
– Put on your headphones. Ideally big ones that cover all of your ears. Extra points if they have noise cancellation. Listen to some nice podcasts.
– Step outside your door.
– Immerse yourself in the audio bubble you created, shielding all the noise.
– Don’t look around! Keep your eyes fixed on the ground to avoid dog crap, piss, and last night’s vomit.
– Don’t be an idiot and walk on cycle paths. Feel free, however, to be passive aggressive towards people who clearly break the rules of urban pedestrianism.
– If you don’t know how to get to a place, let yourself guide by Google Maps. You can listen to voice directions and laugh how the poor American voice tries to pronounce the French street names.
– Marvel at how your headphones not only protect you from noise, but also make it less likely that people who, for example, collect signatures will approach you.
– Arrive at wherever you were going.
In a place as dense as this city, you cannot escape constantly being surrounded by people. As you are going through your daily life, you are therefore exposed to what everybody around you is doing: you know your neighbor’s sleep schedule as you hear their every step trough the thin ceiling. You know when somebody in your apartment block has sex, as the sounds reverberate through the courtyard. You see that one guy working in that one bakery, always having a cigarette break whenever you are walking past. You know when the market is held in your quartier, and you learn to avoid the area if you are in need to get somewhere quickly. In short, you are exposed to many of the facets of the life of everybody around you.
I try to keep as quiet as I can. I want to keep my inevitable intrusion into other people’s life to a minimum. Life here is busy enough as is. I don’t need to keep my neighbours from sleeping by starting the washing machine at night. I don’t walk in shoes on the apartment’s parquet. And, for the most part, others do the same.
But for the love of everything that is holy, why the loud motorcycles?
Everything on the streets makes noise, the cars, the scooters. But by far the loudest are the motorcycles. I don’t even think that it is a technical problem preventing them from being more quiet. It is entirely due to the people sitting on them, who for some reason thought it a good idea to pollute their surroundings with the rumblings of their engine. To the point where you have to stop the conversation you just had, to the point where I need to stop my podcast because I don’t understand a thing anymore.
Please. Just stop. You may feel like Easy Rider, but you are making this place just that much more unliveable with your stupid machine.
It is Sunday morning, I am sitting in a café close to Porte de Clignancourt in the north of Paris. In a city this big people very naturally congregate according to their ethnicity, their profession, and their lifestyle. Hence you get the Chinese quarter (13th arrondissement), the financial district (La Défense), the gay quarter (le Marais), and so on.
The area around Porte de Clignancourt is poor, at least relative to the rest of Paris, and North African. Which makes this café a very special place here: it is a white island in a black area. It opened maybe two years ago, and quickly established itself as the new hip place to go. Young Parisians who never before ventured up here now take the metro line 4, which passes through Paris on a north-south axis and ends right in front of said café. Outside the station there are panhandlers and people who sell you corn, heated on makeshift mobile ovens made of shopping carts (I am not making this up). You pass them and enter the café where the young and beautiful get together to eat brunch for 20 € per person.
I love this place. Music is good, food is nice. But the contrast between inside and outside gets me every time.
There are animals in Paris. Mostly rats, actually, which you can sometimes observe scurrying around the metro tracks. And pigeons, the rats of the air. Small critters are fewer in between. I guess because nearly all surfaces here are covered in asphalt.
There are upsides to this if you don’t like spiders, for example. And everybody can agree that a place is better if you take away mosquitoes. But, coming from a small city and having had the luxury of growing up in a house with a big garden I cannot shake the feeling of how far removed life here is from being natural. This is by no means a given for all major cities, by the way. There are foxes in Berlin!
Despite its great density of people, Paris can be a lonely place. I suppose that is one of the reasons why people have pets here. Cats seem to do alright, but dogs … What makes you think that an animal that needs the outdoors more than you do would be OK in a concrete jungle? Seeing a fat dog waddling behind his owner breaks my heart.
Well, there is one fat dog in Montmartre that kinda lives the life of a king. He walks around and gets a treat wherever he goes. He’s the dog version of Gérard Depardieu.
One last thought: I only know of one quartier in Paris where you can find cockroaches. Ironically it’s around the Champs Elysees. Makes me smile that the rich there have to deal with those pests, when around Barbes you don’t.
A walk along the Seine, on the eve of a beautiful summer day. It has been hot and dry for days now, and the stench is overwhelming. Especially underneath the bridges you are holding your breath as you run towards fresher air.
Paris has quite an outdoor peeing culture. It seems natural for men to unzip and mark a tree. Or a car. On the door hinge.
I never understood this: if you have to piss because you’ve had that many beers, chances are that you are not too far away from a pub anyways – why not ask to use their bathroom? Granted, it would be nice if there were more public bathrooms throughout the city, but one sees more often public urinals, useable only by men, than real toilets. And yet, women seem to be able to hold it in just fine.
I look outside my window at night, and regularly see somebody pissing on a tree. Those little squares around a tree trunk, where you can see the ground? Yeah, avoid them at all cost. They are saturated with urine.
Some places are better, some places are worse, and some places are downright toxic. There is a construction site right across the street. The area is fenced off, and between the fence and the next parked car seems to be a new favorite spot, attracting pissers from the entire quarter. The color of the asphalt is now noticeably different. Last week there was also a turd. Nice.
But, since there is no escape, you deal with it. You maybe start avoiding that stretch along the Seine, or that street behind the Gare de l’Est. And you’re grateful for every cleansing summer rain.