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It’s been ages since I’ve been walking down the boulevard, but today I was doing it again. My bike has been stolen! And it was stolen from one of my favourite places, Place de Ménilmontant. Well, such things happen, and anyway it was a too small, but it feels strange that it should happen less than 48 hours before my departure. It’s the third (attempted) crime that happens to me after I came here. First I was robbed for my deposit (1300€!) for a flat that was way too expensive in the first place, then a kid tried to nick my camera during an anti-CPE demonstration (we both looked the same surprised – me because why would someone nick a fellow demonstrator’s camera, him because the camera was attached with a string around my neck so he didn’t get it…) and now my funny little green bike…
Walking down the boulevard again made me think a lot of things. I thought about the very first time I walked that part of it, mid November eight and a half months ago. I was going from my previous flat in bobo (i.e. quite gentrified/emborgeoisé) Ménilmontant to Charonne, which is neither gentrified, neither nothing else – just okey, quite boring. After I’ve left the familiar area around Place de Ménilmontant which is not yet gentrified, but just full of cafés anyway, I passed the main entrance to the cemetery Père Lachaise at the time of the soup kitchen. The queues for free food are divided by gender, which surprised me at the time. Now I’ve passed the soupe populaire outside the Père Lachaise so many times that to not have to pay special attention to the people sitting in the bicycle lane around dinner-time around 20H would have been more surprising than to actually see them there.
There are some quite deserted areas after Père Lachaise and down to my present flat. I rarely had to pass areas like that where I lived before, so I remembered it made me a bit anxious that first evening mid November, even though the time was hardly more than 8 o’clock in the evening. I remember the anxiety, and it’s funny to think about it now. Now everything is familiar, and it takes more than an empty stretch of the boulevard to make me uneasy. – Just now, on that stretch I passed a blonde and large threesome German family, sweaty and bewildered looking at a map, towards whom I acted Parisian and local and asked if I could help them. They looked for the night bus, and I told them the way – 5 minutes from where we were. I saw a friend off on that bus less than a week ago. How different everything feels now, after some months. – I remember the first time we (my travel company and I) were at Place the Ménilmontant. We felt to be so far east that we hardly imagined that we would dare to go further… And I remember the first time we actually dared to go further east, up the Rue de Ménilmontant, and how I, after a while, should start to say hello to the local Asiatic greengroser there, and how I should see the graffiti change and how I even, at the end, should start to know people in some of the local cafés in nearby Rue des Panoyaux…
It’s amazing how quickly we get used to places and how the perception of these places changes completely as we get to know them. One of my – far to many, far to ambitious – plans for the autumn is to write an academic article based on Alfred Schutz’ The Stranger (on how the stranger slowly makes him- or herself at home in a new environment), and Tim Ingold’s notion of dwelling, (on how people, when making themselves at home in that environment also changes that environment a bit). For in a not very long while, I’ll not wander around getting to feel at home in Parisian boulevards, I’ll sit at my office making anthropology of my ethnographic field notes… (And people will not be able to make fun of me saying are you awake now when I send them an e-mail or sms at 10:30 in the morning – but anyway, I’ll still be able to make fun of them for knowing the Parisian streets better than the Parisians themselves ☺ )
This is not the last post you’ll read about this favourite boulevard of mine, stretching almost all the way through eastern Paris, from Place de la Nation up to Place de Stalingrad and Bassin de la Villette. I hope to soon write a comparison between this Haussmanian grandiose, three-linen and very French boulevard with the cheapest road on the English monopoly board – the hideously gorgeous Old Kent Road, and perhaps my local Oslo street Trondheimsveien. All lively, cosmopolitan east end streets I’ve had the pleasure to live next to for a while in my life.
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