19 February 2013


We were in meetings for two days in Pantin. On the ground floor. While listening to the discussion and contributing where appropriate, certain images still draw one's attention.

For me it was the lanky youth hovering around in the alley – more of a lane really – between the office tower on whose ground floor we were meeting and what seems like a social housing project of some sort next door. The next door building has nets suspended above the sidewalk like the anti-suicide nets of a Chinese factory, apparently because there have been problems in the past with people in the building throwing things onto the sidewalk below. This always gives me pause when I walk there.

The lanky youth. Sometimes sauntering, looking around frequently, sometimes actually running, but away from or toward…impossible to say. I was intrigued and compelled to construct a whole story that revolved around some kind of gang activity or drug dealing. Funny how a mind can wander into that territory.

Cut to a late evening finding something to eat in the near vicinity. Waking up from an overly long nap can be troublesome and challenging. The little empty neighbourhood pizza and sandwich place I find will do. And while I'm waiting for my pizza and my Coke Zero (had to repeat that, as I didn't call it a "coca" like the locals), who should pop into the restaurant but Mr. Hoodie and another young guy. They didn't actually come all the way in, just inside the door, and gave a few coins to the guy behind the counter, as if repaying a small loan or making good on a promise to pay later for food consumed earlier. And then they were gone.

I'm finished with my pizza and my coca and I continue to be puzzled by the culture of tipping in Paris, so I deposit my change in the collection box for the muslim school that is at the cash (that's worth a chuckle). Outside, I stop at a little bakery that is still open this late for a couple of little treats: chocolatine and a cone-shaped nut filled dessert that hearkens to one middle eastern culture or another. (Epilogue: these were lovely.) Walk back to the hotel, past the building, under the nets.

I see them ahead of me and my mind starts racing. Hoodie is looking into some car window and I don't know whether there was anyone in the car or not. I was focused on being aware of where everyone else was. Hoodie's friend was on the steps of the building. My mind has now gone to the place where I get accosted or worse, thinking how naïve I am to believe that there really aren't dangerous places to walk around here, at least not for a man my size.

As I proceed down the sidewalk, stride unbroken, Hoodie heads back from the car toward his friend on the steps and we almost run into each other. He looks at me sheepishly and mumbles a "Bonsoir" in the voice of a teen, steeped in innocence.

I have to laugh at the myriad of assumptions and possibilities I had managed to assemble in my head and how they can be so quickly undone in a word and a tone.

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