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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).
Yesterday, moved down four floors and around the corner, to a little hotel in a side street. My coloc also moved out, and I helped him carry down some more or less dilapidated furniture to the pavement. He said he had found it all on the street and that it would disappear immediately when we left it. It was Saturday afternoon when the street is full of people. But he was right. We stood watching in the kitchen window, as the furniture he had collected the last 3 years was carefully scrutinised and then carried away by passer-bys.
Now, I’ve just had breakfast coffee at a bistro at the ground floor from where I lived before, with a croissant and pain aux raisins, bought at my usual bakery. At practically every café, bar or bistro where they don’t serve croissants or where they’ve run out, it’s just to bring your own from the bakery 45 secs away. (Neither leaving stuff on the pavement nor picking stuff from the pavement nor bringing food with you to cafés are the done thing where I come from. Surely, it happens all the time, but you don’t do it so blatantly). Most people having a peek down on the busy street from my window where I lived until yesterday suggested that I just did my fieldwork from the windowsill. (I was thinking that lovemaking and birth are about the only crucial events I haven’t seen, but then I came to remember the flats across the street). Now, when I’ve settled for a couple of hours in the bistro on ground floor, I could say the same thing. While I’ve been sitting here, loads of (male) neighbours and shopkeepers have dropped by for a coffee or drink, discussing holidays, unemployment from Giscard d'Estaing onwards, Sarkozy, the latest terrorist attacks in England (saying “that’s what we need right now, some terrorism…”)… I’ve only been here a handful of times before, once because a slameur I interviewed suggested the place.
It’s one o’clock, Sunday. The grand slam national and first international slam poetry championship finished yesterday. I’ve got nine more days left of fieldwork, a couple of soirées and an interview almost every day (two of the appointments, I made stumbling upon people by chance taking line 2 between Belleville and Stalingrad… East Paris as well as the slam scene, is quite a small world). Ok, enough for today. Time to move on.
I scribbled down this text à l’arrache a day all my plans disappeared and I was still under influence of the fieldwork fatigue. Since then, I’ve not become less fatiguée, but at least I enjoy my fieldwork again. I think actually that the change came right when I took a step back and wrote this post…
Perhaps the single best thing of living in France is their local bakery. During an ordinary week, I normally go to four different bakeries – all within 5 minutes walking distance – depending on what I want to eat. Now, I’ve just had what a particular bakery calls a pizza, but what is actually more of a quiche bottom filled well-cooked, sweet and tasty tomatoes, perfect amount of melted mozzarella and loads of basil (but without eggs as in a real quiche). They’ve got it at a quite big, old and prestigious looking bakery one block away from République. For dessert, I’ll have a spectacular green pistachio macron filled with raspberries and raspberry cream. It’s actually even better than it sounds!
“[O]ur work cannot transcend being a human endeavor, with attendant costs as well as benefits” (Wolcott 2005: 141)
Earlier this week, I got ditched on one of my first interview rendezvous. [I later learnt that yes, he had been there, in exactly that huge, rather kitschy Indochinese colonial style bar … My incapacity to find him just proves that I’m suffering from fieldwork fatigue…]. Since it’d been a hard day after another sleepless night, I decided to neither wait longer than 25 minutes, nor phone the person, but instead walk off into the busy street at Place de Pigalle. For once, I was in a place without my bike and with nothing planned. I decided to walk back east, following a boulevard one probably cannot find anything like anywhere else in the world, through Pigalle and Anvèrs (tourists, sexshops, local Americans and ordinary inhabitants), Barbès (French Arab quarter for several generations) and La Chapelle and Stalingrad (crowded, noisy and polluted with traffic, known for its social deprivation and heroin). By quieter and gentrified Canal Saint Martin (where students and artists, tourists and homeless picnic side by side), I know a nice little bar, with three tables outside and a few more on the inside, wooden, brown and sympathetically worn down. They play mostly French music, a little bit punkish, a little bit of Mano Negra, some French Tom Waits, a little bit of Balkan-gipsy style that is so popular here… While I wouldn’t dream of drinking a glass of wine alone in public at Zorba or Les Folies 10 minutes away up in Belleville, I don’t hesitate at Café Jemmapes. After my 40 minutes stroll, I sat down quietly and listen to the chattering around me and watched the people sitting by the canal. I started on this blog post but soon realised that perhaps following an advice from The Art of Fieldwork could help me in my state of fieldwork fatigue:
For 3-4 months I’ve been so immersed in fieldwork that I’ve taken it to be my one and only life. Vaguely, I’ve remembered that there exist a parallel universe up north (which seem to be my one and only life when I’m not elsewhere), but it wasn’t before I actually dipped back into that life for 9 days that it all crashed back into my conscience: There is an office there waiting to host me at inhumane working hours in just a few months time. There are students to be taught and colleagues to exchange with, and loads and loads of books to read… (Unfortunately, there isn’t any home with a view over Oslo to hibernate me, my plethora of succulents and dusty books anymore…).
When I entered the field again after a short trip outside of it, I couldn’t get one sentence from a book on anthropological method and the darker arts of fieldwork out of my head:
I realise – as I read an interesting comment in Le Monde on, of all things, why the Toyota model can’t be French – that I haven’t written any posts on hierarchy yet. My cahiers and mind are full of speculations of quite another sort than on French business and work place interaction – for instance I’m thinking about what I can make out of the coincidence that the two last books I’ve read are called the art of something (loving and fieldwork to be precise). Thus, I’m relieved to find another reason for choosing this subject for a post after such a long silence in the blogsphere; it’s unforgivable to have written 69 blog-posts from France without mentioning hierarchy and arrogance!
L’Atelier du Plateau is a little neighbourhood theatre on top of hilly Belleville, near Parc Buttes Chaumont. After going down a narrow, cobbled-stoned cul-de-sac, one enters one, large white painted room under a high ceiling. A bar and a small kitchen (serving for the occasion quiche lorraine, vegetarian pizza, each for 3€, massalé de fruits de mer 7€ and gateau chocolat, also 3€), occupies a corner of the room, while low chairs circling red, oriental carpets marking the “stage” take up the rest of the space.