I left the apartment late yet again. Maybe it’s all the walking, but I feel exhausted at the end of the day and can’t seem to wake myself before noon. It’s tragic, perhaps, to spend so much time asleep in Paris, but then again, I’m on break. I need the rest.
Although I’ve only had cheese baguette once, I’m already feeling resistant to it. I couldn’t bring myself to have it for breakfast this morning, so I had an omelette instead. It came to about €8, which isn’t so bad. As I continue on my trip and start paying for housing, I will need to be more thrifty.
I headed next to the Rodin Museum. It hadn’t been part of my initial plan. In fact, I confess I didn’t even know who Auguste Rodin was. However, a friend from Pepsi had made me promise that I would visit the museum. So I went. At first I didn’t see anything of particular interest, but then I learned that Rodin sculpted the famous piece known as The Kiss. Soon afterwards I got a bigger shock: Rodin also designed the sculpture known as The Thinker! That very same sculpture that all we Columbians take pride in! Shame on me indeed. The original sculpture sits in the Rodin Museum gardens.
I roamed around Paris tonight. The Parisians and tourists were out, streaming on and off the trains, going out to party with friends. I had already eaten dinner with Greg. He had made a pasta with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes. The walk helped digest the food. I criss-crossed over the myriad bridges that connect the two banks of the Sienne River. Clusters of young men and women sat on the bridges, playing music and singing along. The noise of their chatter and laughter followed me as I walked along the east bank. The City of Lights sparkled, glittering in a rainbow of colors on the river. I marveled at its beauty and decided I would return some day with my fiancé or wife. Paris truly is a romantic place.
I had crossed another bridge, and I was now back on the west bank. It looked familiar. I had been there earlier when I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral. Clusters of young people sat scattered across the promenade on the edge of the river. Their voices – laughing, talking, singing – drifted up to me. I walked down the stairs and sauntered between the groups until I found a place to sit. A group of young, Caucasian-French men and women sat on my left. On my right, a group of African-French boys danced to hip-hop and rap music playing on their boombox. The lyrics were in French, but I found myself tapping along to the rhythm. They noticed me and laughed appreciatively. One of them waved his arm towards his group and yelled something in French. I figured he wanted me to join them. I jumped down from my perch and walked over to the group of six guys: Yanik 1, Yanik 2, Jimmy, Allen, Kevin, and Alexander, who was the token Caucasian. Yanik 1 spoke English very well, and he quickly became my interpreter. Jimmy, who had called me over, appeared to be the group leader. Allen was celebrating his birthday and was ridiculously drunk. Kevin seemed like a very nice guy and made every effort to make me feel welcome. He soon produced his camera phone and started snapping photos. They were all between 18 and 21 years old.
They asked me what kind of music I listened to. I like a variety of music, but I especially like hip-hop and rap because I grew up with it. They appreciated that and asked me if I liked what they were playing. It had a nice beat, but I couldn’t understand the French words, of course. They translated for me for a bit but changed the song soon after because it was apparently too violent. I asked them if they liked American hip-hop and rap, and they responded enthusiastically. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac – they listed several rappers. I wasn’t surprised. Greg had mentioned earlier that France is the second biggest market in the world (after the US) for hip-hop. I had been surprised then. These guys didn’t look much different from many of the urban youth I know in America. The only difference was that these guys were conversing in French. They lived in the 94th arrondissement or district of the Paris suburbs, which is where Parisian housing projects are located. The riots that occurred in Paris not so long ago had been catalysed by disaffected youth of these same suburbs. I asked Yanik 1 if the suburbs really were as bad as the media portrays them. Yes, he confirmed. Drugs and armed robbery are rampant. Yet, these guys didn’t seem angry or disaffected. They laughed, joked, and had a genuinely good time celebrating their friend’s birthday.
As Jimmy flipped through the songs on the boombox, I heard a snippet of Coolio’s classic, Gangsta’s Paradise. I asked Yanik 1 if they knew Coolio. Sure, he said, Gangsta’s Paradise, of course, and it occurred to him that they had that song. Hey Jimmy, he called, put on Gangsta’s Paradise. Jimmy tweaked the dial, and the beginning notes of the song punched out of the boombox. The boys gave a roar of approval and gave me the floor to rap along with Coolio:
As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I take a look at my life
And realize there’s nothing left
‘Cause I’ve been brassing and laughing so long
That even my momma thinks that my mind has gone
They all joined me for the refrain:
Been spending most our lives
Living in a Gangsta’s Paradise
A cool breeze blew. Paris sparkled in the background. And the seven of us rapped on the banks of the Sienne River with not a care in the world.