Roma

Roma

My local boulangerie has closed down, along with what seems like half the shops in Paris. Over the weekend the city resounded with the sound of metal grills rattling shut as flocks of Parisians head away for the annual month long exodus. Already the streets in the centre of Paris feel emptier as the heavy August heat and airlessness threatens to settle upon the city.

However where I am staying, a metro stop outside the main walls, in Bagnolet, my boulangerie is an exception. Only the patrons of the chichi-est of the cafes and organic markets can afford to take 30 day holidays in gites down South. In a neighbourhood where my bluish whiteness renders me almost exotic, it’s business as usual in the multitude of falafal restaurants, African groceries and Alergian run cafes. Here, the cracked uneven pavements throb with life, activity and a babble of languages which barely pause for breath, let alone the luxury of a holiday.

Still, to mark the summer, two table tennis tables have been set up on the concrete square where the local Roma and Sengalese from the surrounding squats gather to play and pass the time of day. Reed slim, black eyed girls play complicated skipping games with lengths of pink cord as small boys kick about a ball as if their lives depended on it.

When the heat gets too much, young and old alike stick their heads under the tap of the colourful mosaic water fountain as music, with lyrics I can’t hope to understand, blasts from all corners. The indifference with which I was first regarded is now gradually changing to mild curiosity, along with the rare nod of greeting. Blond blue-eyed woman don’t normally hang about on the concrete benches taking the sun or knawing on blackened corn on the cob, roasted on a shopping trolly.

A few minutes down the road, a rudimentary shanty town is springing up beneath the metal skelaton of an old train station and against the shelter of a graffti covered wall, smothered with pungent lilac.

Further along, at a cross roads where scores of robed Malian men congregate all day, an intriguing walled off market resounds with sounds of arguements and laughter. I don’t wander in there, inhibited as much by my sex as by my whiteness.

The women haven’t time to sit around chatting. Instead they can found in the vegetable markets, haggling over black bananas and huge coarse root vegetables that I wouldn’t know what to do with. Their babies, attached to the small of their backs with large swathes of patterned fabric, stare at the strange white creature with unbashed bemusement. When other white people hurry by, we glance at each other with a sideways glance of almost guilty recognition.

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