There’s no hiding for us in Paris

Posted by Bao on Thursday, January 12th, 2006

Walking up a steep set of stairs in Montmartre, I saw two kids at the top of the hill. One had his back turned and was calling out loudly, “un, deux, trios…” From my two years of French during Junior High in the wonderful public education system of Minneapolis, I knew he was counting out loud. Immediately my paranoid judgmental bastard self assumed the kid was making fun of us Americans walking up the steps, but then I saw the other young boy hunched down near the counter, his hand over his face trying to stifle his laughter, and I understood they were playing hide and go seek. Oldest trick in the book: hide close to the one who’s looking for you, he may not think to seek you when you’re hiding so close.

There’s no hiding for us in Paris: the video cameras give us away, if more subtle things like body language and clothes don’t. A lot of folks from the US, upon hearing we were visiting France, assumed that the French would be rude and hateful to us, but in actuality most people have been friendly and kind. Yves, a journalist, teacher, and musician, is the main person we will be filming while in Paris. “Paris is like a collection of small villages,” he said as he took us on a winding walk through secret alleys corridors and doors, into little known neighborhoods and local treasures. “You see, this is an important part of the French mindset,” he states, referring to the secret doors and back alleys, “we always have an escape route.”

We chat with a man who was born into the butcher business but had a love for musical instruments – he used to sell musical instruments as well as meats in his family shop. Eventually his love for musical instruments overtook the meats, and now his small shop is chock filled with rare antique instruments. He plays several of them for us, including a funky violin/keyboard contraption and a lap guitar with a rotating wheel attached to a crank. We interview a woman who works at a sewing machine shop, who claims Americans stop by but seldom buy anything – she suspects that Americans steal fashion and design ideas. Then we interview a woman who is an immigration specialist, and we speak at length about the challenges France faces in regards to immigration, religion, race, and of course, the riots.

We end the evening by filming a bit in Montmartre, and from the top of a hill, I see the Eiffel Tower with my own eyes for the first time, far in the distance, the lights of Paris sparkling around it. It’s closer than it’s ever been for me, yet it feels strangely distant, an exclamation point of light on the horizon, clearly visible but a little bit off – kind of like what I imagine a tourist would look like to a Parisian, playing hide and go seek with the locals. trying to hide by standing wide out in the open, more obvious than he or she would like to be.

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