Monday, May 2, 2011

Countryside once more and Africa in Paris

I spend first two days in Paris meeting two totally different hosts. Youssef has a well-paid job, travels mostly in a "comfortable" way, never on his own, sleeping in hotels, driving from place to place. He can't imagine hitchhiking, sleeping in places that aren't beds and not having basic facilities. However, he's interested in getting to know my way of traveling.

Gwen, on the other hand, has traveled all over the world, mostly on his own, and experienced different lifestyles and living conditions. He mostly cherishes his time in Burkina Faso, mainly because of beautiful people who live there and the incredible way how they manage to stay content with their lives in spite of not having many possessions.

I discover rainy Auvers-sur-Oise. I wander among tiny streets, see Auberge Ravoux where van Gogh spent last months of his life, the little church on a hill immortalized on his paintings, the cemetary where he's buried with his brother Theo, the place depicted on "Wheatfield with crows," now yellow with rape. This is the end of the footprint of one of the most influential painters ever.

My next hosts in Paris, Marine, Adrien and Casi live close to Château Rouge, an African district in Paris. White people make around 15% of the population here. They take me to the Saturday market and I'm totally flabbergasted by what I see. It's not the postcard-Paris I've known before; it's also far cry from the market in Chamonix where everything was just aimed at tourists who wanted to buy local cheese and other products. Here you can feel the real spirit of all African countries gathered in one place, with fruits you've never seen in your life, exotic spices that stupefy you with their smell, women carrying kids on their back, people clad in colorful, light clothes, sellers passionately demonstrating how tasty their products are, people buying as much as if they were making reserves for years and haggling as much as if every 1 cent was a million. The market is all black and at the same time so bright. You hear any languages apart from French. We try some African pastry and for just 1,20 euro I get a huge piece of cake. The market is a terrific experience. From all 4 sides of Paris (according to Adrien there's Paris for expats, tourists, rich people and students) I got to know the most colorful one; the world of people who created their own piece of Africa in a foreign country.

The next mission is to see all my favorite paintings at Musée d'Orsay. I head to the Impressionists first and again, after 4 years, I marvel at van Gogh's swirling lines and blazing colors, Toulouse-Lautrec's dancing whores and sleeping lesbians, Monet's stacks of hay and colorful garden in Giverny. I also discover paintings that amaze me with the technique - millions of dots or just short brush strokes that seem to be separate but together form a big picture. I can't imagine how something so precise and elaborate could have been painted, whether the artist put dots of the same color in different places first, or created different shapes using different colors at once.

Time passed with Marine, Adrien and Casi is also time passed with their friends. Together we try to find some treasures in the dumpsters, cook a cabbage soup following the recipe of Adrien's grandmother, share stories about never paying for a campsite and living for 1 euro per day, criticize Polish and French politicians, drink rum on the banks of Seine. I get drunk for the first time in over 2,5 years and realize that I do everything much quicker than when sober and don't really understand why, but my hosts tell me in Paris it's the rule about everything.

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