dimanche 1 juin 2008

Just another day in the Village

To begin with, I lost my golden opportunity for a Sunday morning lie-in thanks to our next-door neighbor’s loud music at 10 a.m. The walls are so thin he may as well be playing it in our bedroom. In an earlier post, Maki mentioned how our neighbor was fond of playing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” repeatedly. Well, his taste in music has moved on, but alas, not his penchant for repetition. His fave is now song called “Merci, Merci” and we must have heard it five times this morning. I don’t know if those of you who don’t live in Europe realise how long the days are here now (and how short they are in winter). Right now, it’s light out around 6:30 a.m. and at 11 p.m it’s still dusk, but not dark. My biological clock rhythms have shifted completely as a result. Whereas a few months ago I struggled to get out of bed in time for work, I now find I’m wide awake long before the alarm sounds and I fear I’m not getting enough sleep, so I really appreciate any opportunity to still be in bed by 10 a.m. and am particularly vexed by the repeated renditions of “Merci, Merci”. I guess the sleep habits of our building are only as strong as the weakest link.

But anyway, this Sunday’s planned activity was our weekly shopping. Maki and I had decided to check out the open-air market at Barbés, the colourful multi-ethnic neighborhood I have mentioned before where the “juju men” hand out their fliers

According to a guidebook I have, the market is on Sundays. Maki checked on the Internet and also got the impression it was Sunday. Alas, we got there and no market. Turns out it’s only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can’t trust everything you read. So we decided to walk up to the usually open market area in “La Goutte d’Or”, certainly the most exotic part of the neighborhood: a chaotic street scene full of sketchy street hawkers, men in djellabas and women in multicolored African garb with babies slung across their backs -- a scene more reminiscent of Marrakech or Kinshasa than Paris. At one point, I rather forcefully (accidentally, of course) ran into one of the aforementioned African-garbed women. After offering profuse apologies, she begins to excitedly yell something to me about my “chemise” but I couldn’t quite understand through the accent. After I wandered off, I soon realised that there was a big, red, perfectly imprinted lip mark on my shoulder. This leads me to conclude that:
1) Girlfriend gotta lay of the lipstick. I mean, that’s just TOO much
2) Thank God Maki was there to witness the incident, otherwise I don’t know how I would have explained that perfectly shaped kiss on my shoulders.

It only took about 30 seconds for the next bit of weirdness to happen (do I attract this stuff or what?). I have already mentioned the sketchy street hawkers around this neighborhood. There were a bunch of them on this street (and by a bunch, I mean shoulder-to-shoulder) selling counterfeit Dolce & Gabbana belts and Prada sunglasses. Why they all sell the same thing instead of diversifying and finding niche markets is beyond me. Anyway, it was obviously too close for comfort because an altercation promptly broke out, voices were raised, fists started flying and soon there were small fragments of fake Prada all over the pavement. We probably witnessed our neighborhood’s version of a mob turf war. We walked into the “Ed” (“hard-discount” supermarket chain) for shelter from the affray. As we were waiting in line to pay for our Euro 1.35 bottles of wine, the elderly woman in front of us, who is having her items scanned, shows the cashier a little box of sugar cubes and asks her if they are (of all things) a special sweetener for diabetics. The cashier tells the old dear that no, it’s sugar and therefore definitely not a good idea: “go back to aisle 3 and look for your sweetener, don’t worry, we’ll wait for you and you won’t have to wait in line again”. The old dear was apprehensive because she didn’t want to slow down the line, at which point we heard a chorus of clucks and tisks behind us, with several people chiming in” “that’s OK, go get your sweetener, we don’t mind waiting.” “Go on, don’t be silly”. Then, even people who were in different lines chimed in: “the woman has diabetes, we’ll all wait. She should go get the sweetener.” Despite the entire supermarket’s sense of bonhomie, camaraderie and persuasion, there was no moving the old dear and she did not go back for the sweetener, instead looking very frazzled as she packed her groceries into her bag.

It’s moments like these, however, that allow us to feel the real fabric of our community and to make us appreciate living in a “village in the city”.

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