On one side of the bridge traversing the canal they are building Paris’s latest open-air swimming pool, to be ready by mid-July, free to all, with three bassins and water from the canal monitored daily for its cleanliness.
On the other is a gang of small boys, too hot to wait. They climb over the parapet, hold onto the stone thirty feet above the grey waters, like a line of chirruping sparrows. And then they drop, one by one, like fruit from a tree, plouuff! Down, down they go, then up again and swim like fury for the iron ladder.
‘C’est du jamais vu,’ says a nice lady with her Iphone out, snapping their antics like I am.
Water I thought, ought to be the theme of this June bulletin, seeing as we need more of it to keep the grass from fading too soon to brown. I take some photos of fountains because it’s nice to stand in their spray on these too hot and humid days.
|Fountain, Palais Royal|
|Fountains, la Rotonde de la Villette|
I was surprised how reticent Parisians seem to be about dabbling their feet. That was before I saw those little boys throw themselves into the canal.
It’s wash day every day in the jardin d’Eole. The clothes and trainers are dripping over the fences while the migrants soap themselves at the taps.
Where else can you do it when you have no money, no electricity and no washing machine? Meanwhile the mairie de Paris is forking out millions in an effort to bring the Olympic Games 2024 to Paris – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. The pont Alexandre III groans beneath the weight of tourists and their cameras trained on the crazy Olympic race track stretching down the middle of the Seine while gangs of armed police and uniformed soldiers continue to stroll in threes and fours amongst the jollity. The military are not so much in evidence in our quartier but we have the CRS in droves, one result being that the vendeurs à la sauvette who used to spread their wares at the Chapelle crossroads, are gradually retreating up the street. I expect they’ll be camped outside the main door of our building by the time I come back in September.
I go to the Cézanne Portraits exhibition at the musée d’Orsay. I’m there early and the rooms are half empty. It is cool. The light is low and the tableaux, from all over the world, give a very thorough account of his portrait work – plenty of the man himself and any number of his long-suffering wife.
The exhibition is up on the 5th floor with, in addition to the works themselves, stunning views across Paris. (on until 23 September)
I’m back at the canal again. It’s one of my favourite places round here – the light on the water, the slack liners, picnics, music, fishermen, teams of boule players, tai chi practitioners. There are barriers up round the building that used to house the administrative offices of the canals of Paris, now being turned into a hub for sustainable development projects (blessed by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohamad Yunus.) See les_canaux.com pour l’économie solidaire et innovante.
In all sorts of ways the 18th arrondissement is leading the way on these questions – la Louve cooperative supermarket (https://public.cooplalouve.fr), les Canaux, our refugee breakfasts (hot water currently supplied daily by Bob’s Bake House; bread by a couple of local boulangeries; les invendus - yoghurts, cheese etc - supplied by our local Carrefour) and now the city’s first frigo solidaire at la Cantine du 18, 46 rue Ramey.
I stop at the table tennis tables where Sajjad plays. Sajjad is the young Pakistani asylum-seeker I gave some French lessons to before I left for Scotland in April. There’s no sign of him but as I turn to climb the steps to the bridge I see his partner.
‘Où est Sajjad?’
‘Parti. Ils l’ont renvoyé en Italie.’ Sajjad has been as the expression goes, ‘dubliné’. (from the Dublin Convention on Asylum Applications). It’s what happens to refugees when they are sent back to the country they first entered Europe by. In Sajjad’s case this was Italy.
Poor Sajjad. He was so afraid of being sent back over the border.
‘If I go they (Afghans, of whom he was more afraid than he was of the French police) kill me this time. They try to kill me then, but Allah was watching over me.’ He told me this story many times, always thrusting his hand between his left arm and his rib cage. ‘The knife goes here but it does not strike me. Allah is good. He watches over me.’
France has its new Bonaparte at the Elysée, the young hope of Europe, the deputés take their seats in the Assemblée Générale today 27th June; those who may pose a threat to the good order of the nascent administration - for the most part Modem allies still only under initial investigation but no chances are being taken - have been removed to make way for others it is hoped won't be found to have dipped the public purse; he's kept to his pledge of 50% women in his cabinet; Ramadan is over; a promenade urbaine is planned for the barricaded area under line 2 of the metro. All things considered it could be worse… except that the centres de rétention are full and the planes stand ready at Roissy for their cargoes of refoulés. And Sajjad, like hundreds of others, is once again the wrong side of the wire.