A Quick Note From An African in Paris
May 2, 2005 1 Comment
I have just returned to London from a long weekend in Paris. Ah, Paris – all the clichés are true: the waiters are abrupt, the women sophisticated and the city is pathetically beautiful. There was such a relaxed atmosphere, which was especially noticeable among Africans when compared to their London or even New York counterparts. But then there were many who looked like they had bleached their skins, leaving them with blotchy – albeit it relaxed – faces and super dark elbows. It was a strange juxtaposition: the sense of home many of them exuded and the depths of self-doubt implied by a bleached visage. As for the hair styles… I can now say that Paris should be a UN-level International Emergency on the same level as Iraq and Darfur. If you really want to make a Bill Gates Sized fortune, start a hair salon in Paris. I usually cannot identify a weave if it was whipped into my face, but on the streets of Paris it was a choice between noticing the Arc de Triomphe or the reddish, tangled bushes many sisters were walking beneath. The weaves called attention to themselves, looking like a cross between the Medusa’s snakes and a small wet poodle lying atop a head. I worried that a cigarette butt would be flicked too high, sparking an immediate conflagration, an agonizing death and a flood of lawsuits against the Chinese manufacturers of hair pieces.
Folks in Paris are friendly though, engaged with what is going on around them. They do not hunch their shoulders and look into the middle distance like their Anglo counterparts. And though the place takes bureaucratic procedure to heights that Stalin’s Russia would have quaked at, it is all so smooth and well thought out. At least that was my touristy impression. As for being a tourist, this time in Paris, I was unabashed about it. There is something of consuming another culture that I find quite surreal as an African whose country is usually on the receiving end. It was like being in a shop with peoples’ lives on sale. Everything felt available, subject to the whims expressed through my credit card. Of course I knew that the truth is different: Paris is a city interested first in itself and not the outsider. But still that sense of ownership persisted as a tiny, intense feeling of power. I liked it. And so in a bid to capture the European tourist’s perpetual desire to capture an ‘authentic’ African on film, I tried to do the same by seeking out stereotypical beret wearing, red wine drinking, Marxist spouting French men and their clad-in-black female counterparts. I found very few and actually felt surrounded at all times by people who were from everywhere except Paris. More later. I have two stories of women that I saw: one at the Gare du Nord train station, waiting, I thought, for an inconsiderate lover and the other walking toward the Louvre museum holding a bunch of tulips with the cocksure step of a happy lover. Coming up later …