Monday, January 18, 2010

Return to Paris

Having spent a glorious two weeks at home for Christmas I am now back in my icy apartment with a fridge that clangs all night long, a fresh spattering of mould on the walls and a loo that is now completely broken courtesy of the disgusting old man who lives down the corridor. It may not actually be his fault but since he has woken me up every morning since I got back by unlocking the loo door and leaving it open whilst he urinates loudly I think it only fair that he be held responsible. Now that my fingers are growing accustomed to the cold and can, once again, operate sufficiently to type and my brain has got over the shock of discovering that a friend of mine who lives in Shrewsbury pays the same for her two bedroom house as I pay for my studio, I thought I would continue with my accounts of life in Paris.

In stark contrast to the type of behaviour expected in London, for example, in Paris, no one was surprised by the sight of a rather frazzled old lady boarding the metro with a pigeon clinging to her bag. She settled herself in one of the folding chairs and the pigeon looked round indignantly at the other passengers as though warning them to respect his personal space. He then ruffled his feathers resignedly and dived into the bottom of the bag which I could see was covered with an assortment of seeds and other delicacies. I suppose the lady was grateful for the company for she seemed to be homeless.

Walking home from Breakfast in America towards Bastille the other night I was, once again, reminded of the amount of poverty and homelessness in Paris. This particular stretch of road is lively and full of people during the day but at night it transforms into almost another world. Each shop doorway is occupied by a homeless person together with an assortment of belongings. There is one notable elderly lady who takes up almost the entire length of a shop window with an assortment of packing cases, clothes, sleeping bags and deck chairs. She makes herself a little camp each night and stomps about in her tartan skirt and stockinged feet rummaging through her belongings, tidying up her little space and watching the world go by from one of her deckchairs. I regularly see her tending to someone (presumably her husband) buried underneath a thick pile of blankets and pillows. Several residents of this strange nocturnal neighbourhood make little fires and the whole scene resembles something out of Escape from New York.

Just a few doors down from me, I discovered recently, is a perfect sleeping spot which is densely populated with tents and sleeping bags. I have taken a different route home these past couple of nights and have been sure to tiptoe silently past the sleeping lumpy shapes to get to my building. I suppose this sort of place would be my choice if I were homeless – not only is it quiet but there is also a metro grate which expels warm air to the lucky one who is first on the scene in the evening. Of course, there is also the option of sleeping in the metro itself which, although warm, means putting up with the trains passing until 1am and then again from 5am so, for me, a little backstreet seems the best option.

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