Paris Day 1: Entertaining encounters…

I arrived in Paris today and things have proved ‘interesting’ pretty much from the start…

Having negotiated through Charles-de-Galle airport (which seems to be a ridiculously complicated task!) I got the RER into Gare du Nord. Shortly after the doors closed a teenage boy started busking in the carriage with a small amp and mic to mini-disk backing. Each song only lasted about 30 seconds and there was so much echo and reverb on the mic it both made it hard to tell if he could sing and understand anything of what he said between songs. As we approached the next stop he went up and down the carriage asking for ‘donations’ and when he received almost none, left the carriage muttering something along the lines of ‘I love doing this’… We then all heard him start up in the next carriage as the train pulled away again.

I think this is the first time I have the ‘captive audience’ situation with buskers. And I can understand why it tends to be the sort of situation that causes the most conflict (i.e. not being able to escape them, as when a buskers in the street perform for long periods of time and those living/working nearby cannot but listen). However, this wasn’t the case here. I’ve written about the positives street music can offer to sociality etc., and in an odd way this did do this, though not in the way I think the performer intended…

When he started up there was an element of mutual bemusement among those on the train. Many had clearly just come off flights/were not French, and in general were looking somewhat anxiously every time another station came into view/clearly weren’t sure of the train system. This was given a slightly more light hearted/surreal slant with his singing – there were a lot of shared looks and smiles, and I think made the situation as little less stressful/a little more farcical!

Having dropped my bags at my rather ‘basic’ hotel (thankfully for the first week only – the en suite is the dampest smelling thing I’ve ever encountered) I went for a wander and encountered some other forms of ‘entertainment’. Not really knowing anything about the area, I headed south down Rue St Denis which, it turns out, is basically the red light district (this was confirmed by Damien later). Oddly, amongst respectably dressed middle-aged people and what looked like decent clothes shops, there was a scattering of sex shops, peep shows and strip clubs, and a number of rather aged prostitutes (whose profession was made crystal clear by their choice of dress). What made this stranger was that it was about 2.30pm! I managed to make my way to a more respectable street parallel to it (apparently it is really concentrated to that one street) and got coffee. I did also see a proper Parisian Arcade off the ‘interesting’ street (should have taken a photo, but slightly reticent to given my surroundings!) and couldn’t help thinking of Aragon’s Paris Peasant and the talk of Arcades/prostitutes in there (if I remember it correctly – should have re-read it before I came out).

From their the day took an upturn with a trip to Damien’s flat where we talked about our plans for my trip and I met his very cute daughter who kept asking my to read her stories. Fortunately, my french could have just about managed it (and probably would have benefited from it too!!).

Off to Cergy tomorrow so should be interesting to meet people there tomorrow…

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About Paul Simpson

I am currently a lecturer in Human Geography in the School of Physical and Geographical Sciences at Keele University. I've previously lectured at Plymouth University, and again at Keele before that. I completed my PhD (titled 'Ecologies of Street Performance: Bodies, Affects, Politics') at the University of Bristol in 2009.
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