|<< <||> >>|
Today, it is one year since I packed my bags and left the field. I left a little earlier than planned because the field exhausted me and I wanted some calm. The last ten days I had lived in an hotel, because the letting contract had run out and I was not in the mood, nor had the energy, nor the extravertness to ask any of my acquaintances for a place to stay. After sleeping 6 months on the world’s hardest futon four floors above the madness of Rue du Faubourg du Temple, the crammed hotel room with thin walls and slamming doors almost felt like a relief. Instead, I think it was the nature of the fieldwork itself that exhausted me.
In London, I lived in a great flat share (in such a lovely British terraced house with blackbirds, squirrels and cats in the greenery outside my window), where I could withdraw from the maelstrom of the field for some hours or a day or two, with people to share my frustrations and find inspiration. In Paris, I had nothing but aloneness – and probably quite a lot of loneliness – when I refuged from the field. In addition, the field itself was several levels more advanced than what I had sharpened my anthropological tools on in London.
My command of French limited, but had I not chosen to study a group of people whose force was their command of language, game of words and poetry? In London, practically all my “informants” were my peers, in terms of level of education and to some extent social background, and they were no more than ten years older or younger than me. In Paris, the majority hadn’t even finished 12 years of schooling and only a handful had been to university. Instead, many had been through a whole different school of life than I could imagine. In terms of age, they ranged from 20 years younger to 35 years older. Moreover, while my focus of study had been of great interest to the people concerned in London, I never really felt that that was the case in Paris. Perhaps it was the language that made me qua researcher far more interesting to spend time with in England than in France, perhaps it was the subjects of concern, or perhaps it was just the French tradition of liaisons that rarely let me qua femme (et blonde et exotique en plus) retreat in favour of the researcher and even friend. I wouldn’t say that this fieldwork demanded black belt in professional and language skills and social sagacity, but it demanded enough to make me so exhausted in the end that I voluntarily left Paris more than two weeks before schedule. But it was really an awful summer anyway. And besides, I had important business to sort out at home.
After an autumn of absence, the field started coming back to me. When I hurried through my old neighbourhood in East Paris for a quick coffee by Canal Saint Martin on my way back from Corsica to Oslo in the spring, I realised how much I missed the atmosphere. What atmosphere? I can’t say for the moment, but that particular feel the streets of North East Paris instigate is something I grapple with in my writing at the moment. The sheer diversity of human beings and activities everywhere at all times, the history, beauty and grandeur emanating from the buildings and boulevards, the touch of anarchy and creativity in the street art and street life… I don’t know, but there is a difference. It was very hard to live it, but I really miss it. Now, for the time being, I’ll have to make do with trying to describe it.
|« High summer||Parisian performance poetry: a republican space for encounters? »|