Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bienvenue à la ceinture rouge

Paris in the springtime, and it’s very sweet to be back, I must say.

Returning to the heart of Europe from four months in Australia, probably the most unpleasant country I have ever visited, France, with its glittering intellectual tradition, culinary excellence, potpourri of cultures and proximity to so many areas of the world that hold my interest, has proved a very easy transition.

Continuing my tradition of living in largely immigrant areas of the city (as befits my immigrant status), I have swapped my pied-à-terre in the 18eme’s Château-Rouge quarter for a charming and light-filled flat just across the périphérie along the frontier of two neighborhoods, Les Lilas and Bagnolet, in the neuf trois department of Seine-Saint-Denis. A historically working-class area that is now one of the most fertile grounds for French hip-hop, the area of northeastern Paris that I now call home has such a strong tradition of militant labour activism that it once gained the sobriquet la ceinture rouge (“the red belt”), a name that still holds largely true today. Far from the overpriced tourist destinations and grand boulevards of western Paris, the neuf trois is France’s immigrant experience at its most authentic and, as such, one of the most vibrant places to experience the real culture and development of the language that France has to offer.

Much has happened during my travels, including the declassification of documents that prove that the United States government knew that Guatemalan political actors it supported with arms and cash during that country’s 36-year civil war were behind the disappearance of thousands of people. The disclosure, largely due to the important work of the Nation Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, DC, sheds fresh light on the development of a deeply corrupt political culture that continues to bedevil Guatemala today (as I found out during a recent trip there) and my own country’s role in it.

In terms of America’s current history, I can’t speak highly enough of the deep satisfaction I have felt to watch Barack Obama on his first visit to Europe as president. I can’t remember the last time I heard a US president rhapsodize about the sublime please of sipping wine in a European cafe as the sun goes down, all while giving an eloquent defense of public service, but I am glad that I was able to be alive at the time Obama was president. He makes one as inspired and hopeful about the possibilities of politics and America’s role in the world as the previous president made one hopeless and cynical.

I should have some much bigger news coming in the next few days. In the meantime, on y va.

No comments: