Paris Days 7-13: Quiet days in Cergy, Left bank tourism, and Gare du Nord fieldwork begins

So, I’ve been a bit slack in posting on here over the last week…

The end of last week went quite smoothly and quietly – I worked in Cergy/wrote some more, met with some of Damien’s colleagues and discussed the differences in the UK and French University systems (some really interesting contrasts given current UK government moves with academics here in France being seen very much as civil servants, but with encroaching contract work etc.), and had a tour of Cergy with Damien and his colleague when he returned from Sweden.

Cergy was nothing like I had pictured from the small amount I had seen around the RER station, shopping area, and University campus. Apparently, when it was initially planned (in the 1960s) the aim was to build somewhere with the same area of Paris but with a 10th of the population. Also, there was a funny statistic that in Paris there is one tree for every 10 people whereas in Cergy there are 10 trees for every one person. It does seem very green and suburban. It’s structured as a conurbation with a number of small centers with mainly housing surrounding. There’s also a really diverse mix of architecture with about every style of modern housing you could think of but also with slightly Disneyland-like new-old houses that have only been built in the last few years…

One thing we did go to see was the city’s Axe Majeur. This leads from Cergy to Paris and (nearly) lines us with the business district to the west of the center (the La Defense) which you get quite a good view of from the hill side it is on. This originates at a pillar in the middle of a very grand housing development and runs down a hillside and onto a bridge that goes out into a lake. There was also a laser beam when first built, but don’t think that is there now. The housing area is quite strange because although it looks very grand, it is actually social housing.

Hopefully I’ll be getting more of a tour when we return their next week…

Over the weekend I had a couple of relatively uneventful days doing typical tourist things… Saturday I went to Hotel des Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, and walked down the Left bank looking at the stalls there. I bought a couple of posters for my office in Keele – a map of Paris from the mid 1600s and another map of Paris from 1889. Sunday I went to Jardin du Luxembourg and sat in a cafe in the Latin Quarter and read. I did feel slightly ironic doing this though – I was reading about affect and film on Rue Descartes…

This week marks the start of our fieldwork for the big ANR network project (how I know Damien), so most of the ‘team’ arrived on Monday and we had a look around Gare du Nord and made some plans, had Sri Lankan curry for lunch, discussed more, and had Cambodian curry for dinner. Yesterday we tried to put these plans into action but had a rather eventful start…

Much of the ‘data collection’ we are doing is involving taking various video clips, time-lapse photography, still photos, and more general observations. This tends to mean recording spaces rather than specific events, and so standing out quite a bit from the usual tourists etc who take photos of something actually happening. As such, I had a security guard first hover by me, and then later, when I hadn’t moved, ask me what I was doing. At first I pretended not to understand (well, he asked in French and I was guessing he was asking what I was doing) and eventually I just played him the time-lapse clip I’d recorded over the preceding 15 minutes. He seemed unsure about this and, after some humming and hawing, said was OK, but seemed a little unsure.

While this was happening Damien had been taking a photo transect across the station (to be stitched together later) and had a man in a suit from SNCF (who run that part of the station) tell him he did not have permission to take photographs. Damien questioned this, but the man insisted and then went and spoke to some armed security people who followed Damien for a while.

We decided this was perhaps time to do a re-group and check what was actually allowed in the station! While we had made a number of efforts to get formal permission in advance, all our attempts to contact were just ignored. And on their website is says tourist filming is ok, but commercial filming needs permission/to pay. We were then in a grey middle ground. However, it did also say that such permission could be revoked depending on the situation in the station at the time.

With this webpage ready on mobile phones we went back to do more filming. However, shortly after Damien was being shadowed by two guys with earpieces who were lingering by him pretending to use their phones (we say the screens were in fact blank/they were miming using the phone, so likely plain-clothed security/police). So, we decided to call it a day. Today it will be strictly still cameras (and iPhones) only…

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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