Posts tagged ‘lively streets’

February 5, 2012

Paris: A City of Belonging-Anna

Thinking of which streets I like walking on and of the reasons why that is so, my first thoughts go to quite similar ones as those that Gowri found: I like lively streets, where one feels a sort of openness and belonging, ones in which the very concept of life and genuine sharing and generosity are central to the identity of the neighborhood. It is one where you can meet your friends and also make new acquaintances, no matter how futile they are.

But I think there is another factor that comes in account, and that is the question of identification and ease. When I think of the one street, or area I love the most, I immediately think of those that are back home, in Paris. Interestingly enough, the streets I think about are not those of my neighborhood, but of the quarters I love the most. Those streets are part of the old, windy, medieval style Paris. They are the streets in which everything is twisted and bent. The walls are not vertical in the least if you look at them carefully. Of course what really stands out is the stone, in different forms, that lies everywhere. They are cafés and fruit-vegetable vendors, and very small grocery stores, almost all of which are of the Magreb.

I think I enjoy these streets because I feel hugged by the walls, because I find it comfortable to walk through them. I am not lost in a crowd, so I am not insignificant, but I am not alone. I can be in my world and be with myself. The buildings guide my path, there is not an incredible amount of space to go left or right on the small sidewalk, but there is air. There is air because stone is a material that breathes, because the buildings are never more then 5 or 6 stories high, and because the climate is cold for the most part.

I think it’s my natural environment because I identify with the architecture of time. I like to think that all the things that constitute a place have their right to be where they are. Everything in those quarters (neighborhoods) of Paris have lived through so many things, so many changes that have distorted their appearance that in a way they gain a melting, and therefore belonging to the environment. Even piss on a wall is part of this process. This is what is so fantastic about stone: It is movable, changeable, multi-layered.

It also has its smells: different whether it is shiny or rainy (when it is damp, stone has a wonderful smell). I have never asked myself whether Paris was artificial or a simple mirage, because, in those areas, it feels natural. Yes, things have been destroyed and reconstructed everywhere, and yes they are gaps between buildings, and none of it fits perfectly like a puzzle such as in the most part of New York City, but it somehow feels like that’s the way it ought to be, and that each part has greeted the next.

Maybe if the model of the Parisian café was constructed, that it has lasted so long and that there are so many, it is because of the idea of a sociable place, to drink the “verre de l’amitie”, but also it is a place to take the city in, to watch over our territory, we have made it ours, simply because we always realize how much it is, whether we hate it or not at that moment, a place which is home.