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Following the Parisian slam scene immediately led me to the suburbs. During my 9 months long first stay here, I crossed la pheripherique (ring road) only five times (except to go to the airport). Three times in the summer I attended open microphone slam events; two in Saint Denis (by Stade de France which one can se on the way to the airport) and one in Fontenay-sous-Bois (to the south east). Saint Denis is well connected to the metro system, Fontenay-sous-Bois is not, and it was a true galère to get there, according to one I travelled with. (One of our adventures dans la galère, I recounted here in Nouvelle France).
Before I discovered the slam phenomenon, I went extra muros only twice, both with a friend visiting from Norway. Partly we wanted to have a look at the places where the youth were so angry, partly we went traditional sightseeing. In Saint Denis we dropped by at the famous basilica there where all the French kings have been crowned, and in Val-de-Marne we went to Mac/Val, a contemporary arts museum.
It seems quintessential of for this state, built on the ideal of Enlightenment to the people, to put such avant-garde institutions far into suburbia. It costs (practically) nothing to enter, which is probably a way of encouraging the locals to come to this place. I think they succeeded to some degree. While the exhibition was rather playful, the restaurant was minimalist, in terms both of its interior and the food. Someone told me that the highbrow restaurant was an attempt at encouraging Parisians to take the trip. However, the atmosphere (and prises?) didn’t encourage the locals I observed to feel at home there. (I remember this incident, but I can no loner remember what made me think certain visitors were locals belonging to certain social strata –at the time, I obviously didn’t follow my own note-taking advise and described instead of categorised….)
To get to this museum, one takes a metro line to its final destination (Choisy – Chinatown, in fact, which we discovered also made it a poor target for our angry youth expedition – perhaps the sino-français haven’t yet become second or third generation on the dole?), and then walk or take a bus even further into the (sub)urban sprawl.
The same travelling procedure, I’ve followed several times the last three weeks. First, I take the metro all the way to its terminus, then I go on by feet, bus or tramway – through names of places one remembers from the November ‘05 riots –, until I am at a Place de la Liberation or Place de la Résistance…(I’ll leave these interesting place names, full of national remembrance, for another post), where I find some more or less grandiose cultural centre where all kinds of experimental artistic activities take place. The slam poetry is not at all seen as an experimental activity, but rather to “invite the street in and listen to it”.
In one of these places, Le Blanc-Mesnil, the whole affair appeared slightly absurd to me: Outside the very grandiose Forum culturel there were groups of predominantly black youth dressed hip-hop style inside, well, the percentage of black hip-hop style was not very high.
The Norwegian arts scene is probably one of the least elitist in the world, while the French is probably quite high on the other end of the spectrum. So, while I find a bit bewildering the time and place to perform some rather experimental jazz jam or modern ballet or whatever, the French seem to react if it is completely normal.
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