Aaaaah Paris, mon amour. Tes petits cafés, tes rues pavées, ton architecture, tes voitures qui roulent de l’autre coté, ton pain frais, tes amoureux, tes milles lumières, ton art, ton soleil…Wait what? Is this going to be yet another cliché blogicle like so many others out there in the world declaring my eternal love to Paris, La Magnifique? I really hope not. I know this blog is about my hobbit experience discovering Manchester but how could I limit myself when its so easy to hop across the English channel. You see virtual readers, I dream of India, of Africa and South America but nothing really enticed me to dive deeper and discover life “à la francaise”. God only knows how wrong I was!
For I do believe that anywhere new and unknown you visit, definitely teaches you a thing or two about yourself, about life and culture! Discovering food, getting lost, visiting new places, meeting new people, learning, marvelling at new sights and feeling like a kid just wandering about. There really is nothing like travelling.Growing up in Mauritius (watching way too much Canal+* as a kid), I was exposed at an early age to a lot of the best things (I like to think so) that the French Culture has to offer; music, food, media, cinema, literature, language. Even if the official language is English in Mauritius, I feel like we speak French and Kreol way more than English. And of course us Mauritians came up with a whole melting pot of English and French mixed up with our local language which is Kreol. I know I do waffle a lot, but bear with me. I am only trying to paint the whole context of the situation here. Take a very tiny Mauritian hobbit, who is more comfortable writing in French but would rather read English books. This very same Mauritian hobbit would rather speak Kreol instead of English or French. Confusing eh?
*french channel that used to be cool but is not anymore because all the cool people left. Yes, I am talking about you Yann Barthes, amongst others.You see virtual readers, I do not get a lot of English jokes, references, old bands, old actors or movies my british friends, boyfriend, and fluffy boyfriend’s sides of the family make or refer to most of the time.
Now, it might be that I am an uncultivated hobbit swimming in blissful ignorance but I genuinely think my general knowledge is fine thank you. And not knowing things does not bother me at all. See, I am all about that Dora (yeah yeah the explorer, you’ll get my point trust me) kind of lifestyle – exploring and running around!
But I do feel like I get the French references more than the English ones. I know the old songs and singers, the cult movies regardless of the genre and era, used to read a lot of french BD (bande dessinés – comics – Tintin et Milou, Les Schtroumpfs, Lucky Luke, Asterix et Obelix, Pif Gadget), watched the Club Dorothée and the Minikeums (kids’ tv shows I used to watch with my mum), and the anime (Dragon Ball, Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque, Albator) dubbed in French which I still know all of the opening themes to by heart and the music (from the “variétés française”, to the amazing Piaf, Bashung, or Gainsbourg) is something that my kid’s ears have learned to love over time.I have grown up to be very proud of my “métissage” and where I am from, but I do believe that the Mauritian culture holds bits and pieces of the French Culture (amongst many others) and that a huge part of these bits and pieces have contributed into making me who I am today.
I never thought I would be happy to hear french songs on the radio this much. To turn on the tv and be delighted to hear everything in french, to walk around and be able to grasp snippets of conversations without even listening. I do not know how to explain this feeling. This feeling of knowing it is definitely not home, but it kind of feels like it because of so many tenuous similarities.A very basic example would be “la bise”! This is another thing I absolutely LOVE! In Mauritius, we greet each other by kissing on the cheek. It is a polite and quite warm way of saying hello. I noticed that people do not really do that in England, which confused me a lot. Imagine a tiny Mauritian hobbit kind of leaning in towards strangers and people I met for the first time, for a kiss! It’s funny and awkward at the same time! And left me just hanging there and either waving at people who were standing right in front of me, or pretending to scratch my cheek in a very dramatic way! I cannot describe how awesome it felt to just lean in for a kiss in France because the person in front of me WOULD DO THE EXACT SAME THING!!Wandering the cobbled streets of Paris is an experience in itself. I kept looking around, looking up, looking down, for there is always something to see somewhere. Bistrots, kebab shops, Mauritian, Caribbean, Spanish restaurants and supermarkets, Indian shops selling spices, cafes and bars! All intertwine to create a melting pot of lively and vibrant mixed cultures. At la “Rue Mazagran”, I let out a very high pitched squeal when I entered “Saveur des Iles” and saw their beer fridge, full of little Phoenix (our local Mauritian beer) bottles! In one of the many little back streets of the capital known as the “Passage Pradi”, I had one of the best “Briani Poul” (the Mauritian version of chicken Biryani). What an experience it was to walk into a very small shabby but cosy restaurant, to order in your native language, have a joke with the people working there and say “pa blier nou zassar” (do not forget our “zassar” ) – Zassar or Achard being a type of pickled fruits or vegetables.Language is one of the many things we take for granted. To be able to speak in one’s native language for 5 straight days is something that became almost a surreal feeling when I was in Paris. I would sit there, and listen to my friends talk for hours. The swear words, the funny expressions, the colourful sounds, the guttural “Rs”, the big laughs, the loudness of it all. It felt like we did not stop talking at all. Too excited to go to bed, and talking the night away until the early hours of the morning, scared to miss out on this moment of belonging. It is a very warm feeling, being so different from each other but still fitting right in, in all of the flavours real Mauritianism offers… IN PARIS!
It is hard to explain or describe this feeling. Like this girl who kept staring and grinning at us in Kiko before coming over to ask “Mauritians?”. This simple question quickly escalated into laughs, hugs, lots of talking over each other, exchanging names and “whereabouts are you from”. I have to admit I do not remember neither her name nor her address but this sense of unity, the friendliness and kindness felt is how I would like all human interactions to be all the time. The Parisian architecture is another one of the many things that made my eyes poop stars. Old and new come together to create this romantic gothic setting that takes a completely new atmosphere at night. All of the Renaissance, Gothic, Belle Epoque, and Art Nouveau buildings and monuments steeped in history gave me goosebumps! How exciting it was to actually see all of the landmarks you hear about in History classes and never thought you would be able to stand next to. The Place de la Republique, the Louvre, the Cathedrale of Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, the Pont des Arts! All of the old structures oozing of dust, scars, memories and life that stand tall and proud today as a memorabillia of what mankind can accomplish at his best – or at his worst. The art eras mixing up; ageless walls welcoming traces of spray paint and graffiti stencils makes exploring the streets of Paris very interesting.Paris by night is a must! Getting dizzy with all the lights, the couples kissing saying goodbye or greeting each other in the different ‘Gares’, the sounds of laughter and people chatting ‘en terrace’ in the late afternoon. ‘Apéro’ time is almost sacred, and I absolutely loved seeing so many different people mingling, drinking and nibbling away. Oh it is not all purple and rainbows! It is an extremely busy and crowded city, two of the main things I try to stay away from – busy city vibes give me the creeps. Indifference and rudeness traumatise me, and I fear them like the plague! As I mentionned earlier, one of the main reasons of my short stay in France, was solely to meet up with best friends I had not seen in ages. Paris as a city was not a priority for me. I wanted to go there, catch up with my friends, and go on crazy little adventures with them. I did not have much expectations and the city itself barely interested me. This went from one end of the spectrum to the other very quickly I have to say. I stayed over at my long time best friend Laura. Living in her cosy little home was one of the main reasons that made me fall so desperately in love with Paris.She adopted and adapted the french culture in a way that made the Mauritian woman in her blossom even more. And yes she is a new little mom, but pregnancy has not got anything to do with this in my opinion. Living with her and her little family, witnessing the love, the quirks, the laughs – the smell of tea with “elaiti” early in the morning, opening her fridge and getting this whiff of strong ‘l’ail zimzam’ (garlic and ginger paste) very common to all Mauritian fridges, eating “raclette” for the first time, and having ginormous strawberries and “crème brûlée” for breakfast.The souvenirs of fighting over who’s doing the dishes, who’s helping putting the baby to bed, and who’s making the cocktails! All of the late dinners, the “gajaks” (snacks), the “eski vert” (Mauritian fizzy green drink) made tastier with the deep exchanges, the conversations and high school memories making us all go into fits of laughter every 10 minutes! The multitasking mom she’s turned into made my 26 year old kids’ eyes so impressed and proud. This sense of family, love, community and unity! She taught me that anyone could achieve that kind of happiness, at home or far away from home. Paris you gave me one of the shortest but sweetest holidays this year and I shall be back.