I recently came back from what was technically my first solo trip. Hardly an adventure, when you consider it’s less than hour away by flight but give me some credit; it’s something that I completely undertook by myself.
As of late, my interests have been geared towards discovering and entering the world of Afro-Europeans. My trips to Europe are less about the picture perfect idealism of these various cities, but more so the engagements between people – looking into the divisions that still exist among people.
I was so excited when I landed and took the TGV into Paris where I engaged in a conversation with a father and his daughter, both black and both multi-lingual. They spoke of Paris, of London, or Morocco and of Hamburg. They told me to enjoy my time here and to stay smiling. In the fading heat of the sun, I felt welcomed into the strange hustle and bustle that was Parisian life. Coincide this with my unfortunate timing with Euros 2016 active in Paris; I knew this trip was going to be a great chance to push myself.
I was overwhelmed by the textures of the city. Stone overlapped concrete, cobbles blended in with dried paint. It was like layers of history had rested upon themselves and it was our job to chip away at it; find the core. I stayed in Belleville; a pretty trendy area of Paris, similar to Prenzlauer Berg or Mitte in Berlin. A local I met on my first night told me that a lot of the graffiti/street art was soon to be painted over; make the walls white and palatable. I reasoned that he, as an artist, looked on at the city in a different way. A place of familiarity sure, but one where memory counts for less and less.
I wasn’t expecting much from Paris – I wanted everything to be felt with fresh senses, That being said, before I arrived, I knew I wanted to visit Montmartre and surrounding areas; simply for its population of African descending people. I was so honoured and humbled to see so many beautiful black women embodying different tones, different shapes; all godly. Despite also coming from a metropolitan city, never I had I seen such a huge, unashamed display of blackness.
African food shops, black makeup products, hair extensions, wigs and weaves; a diverse display of what it means to be black and what it means to be beautiful. In turn it made me feel incredibly comfortable with my body, my hair and my outlook. On several occasions some of the locals mistook me for French or French colony; whether or not I should, I took it as a compliment.
In the same frame, it felt really good to meet people who were comfortable with their sexuality and their social/political/personal interests. The men and women I met were very simple; their opinions, aesthetic and conversations were not overly complicated or tiresome. In England, there is a tendency to beat around the bush, never say what you really feel or mean in fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Political correctness is rife and no one wants to be called out for what they think. In Paris, they say what they mean and stand by it. It was so refreshing to not have to try and please people or dumb down what I wanted to say.
I had a fear that language would be a huge barrier, but honestly, my French was just fine and their English better. I was fortunate enough to mix with locals who showed me around the city and were not afraid to demonstrate the hearsay of Paris being a romantic city. Even though I was alone most of the time, I walked boldly; imitating the black women that did so every day with pride. Walking the streets at night was actually a funny experience; you have to see Pigalle at night!
We had many discussions in my hostel; most on Brexit and what that would mean for me. All I could say was that ‘I’m here, aren’t I?’. I never thought that Brexit would come to pass! All in all, this outcome is a sick game, played by bureaucrats; rolling dice with each other. Like many other Brits, further intrigue has been invested into looking at obtaining European citizenship; of which I should be entitled to, but may have difficulty requesting. When you consider that in Paris and Berlin, so many options were available to me on the pure principle that I was an EU citizen, it becomes increasingly distressing when to realise that that’s all gone, in the face of uninformed propaganda and the instillation of hate and fear.
I have never felt truly comfortable with my identity as a British person, nor have I ever felt comfortable with my European heritage. Somewhere in between there is a group of us trying to figure it all out and that’s what Paris was for me. I skipped out on Le Tour Eiffel, Champs Elysee and L’arc de Triumph. Instead, I wandered the streets like a nomad, writing my journal in cafes, smoking cigarettes like a nouvelle vague dream. I just wanted to blend in; not be outstanding for any other reason than my self-realised brilliance.
Paris was a much needed break from the intensity and turmoil of Britain. It was to really get to grips to an alternate way of living and see myself moving further away from burning bridges onto newly paved streets. There will be a special place in my heart for Paris and I hope to return to meet again with the artists, singers, visionaries that invited me in.
(If you want to see some more photos of my trip to Paris, please visit my photo diary. Most of the photos are being developed currently, so stay tuned to see more in the near future).