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It’s pouring down in Paris, and there is no sign of the heat wave that struck us a year ago. I’m stranded at the local bistro, wishing I had brought my woollen jacket. If the best thing to do when it rains like this is to cuddle up at home with a cup of tea, living alone in a hotel is perhaps one of the least pleasant things. (However, seeing all the people sleeping rough in this city, sometimes right on the pavement outside this bistro, it could have been very much worse. And I’m planning a sizzling hot fish tagine for lunch – if I just could get down to the restaurant – so I’m not complaining).
Since my last post, I’ve done four interviews: two quite good and long ones with people I know at least a little bit and who – at least as importantly, I think – has seen me around on various venues for 6 months, and two with people who have rarely if ever seen me working. The latter were of course far shorter and less good, not due to the interviewees, but not surprisingly to the interaction and dynamic between us. My mediocre French also hinders me in creating a very constructive dialogue there and then, which could have counterbalanced the lack of confidence between two strangers. In London, I conducted interviews with three people I’d only been emailing with beforehand which resulted in excellent material. They knew I would anonymize them, and also that we probably would never meet again, so they used me a little bit like a psychologist, when telling about their experiences of growing up. The slammers can in most cases of course not be anonymized, so the interviews develop completely differently, not deviating much from their public persona. And in the cases where I know people well, both sides know there are strict limits to what I can reveal about them, and obviously also to what seems relevant to my study. One of the explicit issues in London was identity formation. Here identity is relevant as well, but only implicitly. In addition, many will say that they tell about this and that – more or less poetically expressed – in their texts.
I concentrate so hard when interviewing that I feel dizzy afterwards. In order to grasp (almost) all they are saying – often in a café that appeared calm and quiet until I find myself face-to-face with a surprisingly softly spoken slammer – I’ve realised that I scrutinise people’s face, following their mouth as if reading on their lips. Sunday, I listened to people talking for almost 6 hours – at a balcony overlooking Canal d’Ourcq in the northeast, and in a café off Rue Moufftard, in the southeast – with only a 40 minutes bikeride in-between. The morning after, I woke up feeling like I’d been drinking until the early hours. Strange.
Today, I’ll go at an end-of-the season soirée at a small bar at Barbès, where I’ll meet up early to finally do the interview I ditched (unwillingly!) at Pigalle some weeks ago. – Under the counter in this bar, a slammeuse told me, there lays a Paris Match from mid October 1961 saying nothing about the hundreds of French Algerians thrown into the Seine by the police after the peaceful demonstration the 17th (see this post). The barman had shown it to the eldery slammeuse after she had performed a text on the police chief of the time, Maurice Papon (who has such a dark record that the fact that he died peacefully in a hospital bed without having been severely punished makes certain aspects of French politics utterly incomprehensible to me). The barman showing her the magazine had moved her, she said. He in return was surely moved by her performance, although it’s nothing new that White Frenchmen also were concerned about the plight of the Algerians. (For instance, all the 9 killed by the police at metro Charonne in February 1962 had traditional French names. See this post). He can’t have been old, if he was born at all, in 1961. The magazine must thus have been laying in the bar or having been kept in his family from that time, probably in order to remember that although it mentions the demonstration, it said nothing, nothing about what really happened. Knowledge I’m sure was widespread amongst the French Algerians at Barbès at the time. This knowledge, together with the more than 40 years silencing of it, continues to live on, under counters at bars in Barbès, as well as elsewhere… “Finish with the repentance…” (as Sarkozy says – see a post or two ago), well, I don’t know if the time is due yet.
Instead of moving on to the third café with wifi (after a late breakfast in the neighbourhood, I hurried through the rain for a late lunch at picturesque and rain wet Place Sainte Marthe), I think I’ll post this now and take benefit of the surely temporary stop in the downpour to move on.
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