I decided to visit a different area of Paris on my last day, one that the French girls in Rome had told me about – Montmartre, or the 18th District. I’d also avoided the districts they’d said were bad, namely the 19th and 20th, on the North-East if you’re looking at a map of Paris, and had happily chosen a CS host in the 15th District, a nice area by all accounts. Montmartre was an alternative area that included the Moulin Rouge, along with an assortment of ‘Supermarche Erotique’ sex shops and ‘Spectacle International’ strip clubs. I watched a man park his car by actually bumping into the pole in front, and the car behind, his allocated space while attempting to manoeuvre his vehicle into position, and was not surprised when I saw the condition of the remainder of his car.
Off the main streets, Montmartre was an arty district, with artworks for sale in shops and at street stalls, some with artists completing works as you watched. There were restaurants, patisseries, biscuiteries and delices, selling ice-cream and sweets, and cafes with rows of perfectly lined up tables and chairs. Many had chairs that faced only towards the street, so rather than people passing by watching those eating, the tables were turned so to speak, and those that ate did the watching. The tourist shops all contained magnets of baguettes, and there was a clown entertaining kids (and scaring Japanese girls) in the street.
Passing the Sacré-Cœur church I was approached by one of the numerous black guys selling nick nacks and the like. This one had thread to make a bracelet and I’d seen them at work before. They make the string bracelet on your wrist then demand money for it. I wasn’t interested and said so. He kept following me even though I ignored him, then he reached out and grabbed my wrist. I couldn’t believe he’d actually grabbed me, so I turned around and growled “NO!” and jerked my arm free. I walked away shaking my head – the nerve of these people shocks me.
Back onto the main street and amongst the sex shops and strip clubs you could feel the atmosphere change. This was not the pretty, upmarket Paris I’d recently been introduced to, this was a dirtier, downbeat, sleazy area. Almost as proof, the streets were littered with papers and small amounts of rubbish, there were guys who openly stared and whistled as you walked past, and long term drunks on street corners muttered incomprehensibly to themselves. The population demographics were visibly altering as I walked toward the Gare du Nord train station, in this area were younger, darker skinned Africans and the shops changed to suit the population. The fashions displayed in the windows were in brighter colours, often with gaudy designs and fabrics. There were many more African hair styling salons, and even a poster advertising a civil wedding celebrant. The area didn’t feel as friendly, nor the streets as safe.
I hurried to the train station and there witnessed my first incident of international domestic violence. A woman was standing with a pram containing a baby of just a few months old. She was quite pretty, of mixed race, about my height and was nicely dressed. She was being yelled at by a tall dark guy, presumably her boyfriend and father of the baby. Although I could not understand what he said, I, along with everyone who was in the nearby vicinity, understand the meaning of what he said, and he was not happy. She said something to him and he suddenly lunged at her, grabbed her around the throat and pushed her violently against the advertisement board she stood near. She cried out and began whimpering, tears streaking her face, and the baby started crying. I was pleased to see four men standing nearby move to help her, but the boyfriend let her go and she waved the help away. A small crowd of onlookers had gathered by this stage, and the boyfriend grabbed her arm and shoved her and the pram ahead of him while continuing his tirade of abuse as they left the station.
Everyone shook their heads, and the men who went to help her were being consoled and/or held back by their friends, and I thought, sadly, there isn’t much point going to help her. She has obviously been with him for at least twelve months already, if not more, and I dare say this is not the first time he has abused her. What saddened me the most was that she stays with him. I understand there are great psychological games played within domestic violence relationships, and once you choose to stay after one incident it becomes even harder to leave later on. However, I don’t understand why we, as a supposedly civilised Western society, are still raising women with such low self esteem. How can we call ourselves ‘civilised’ when so many women think so lowly of themselves that they opt to stay with men who abuse them? How can we expect the children of those relationships to grow up and perform roles that are any different in their own lives? Why is more money, time and effort not put into raising children’s self esteem and ideals so that girls don’t enter into abusive relationships and boys don’t feel the need to abuse others in the first place? How and why do we let each successive generation down so badly and when will it stop?
Rattled by what I saw, and with the questions above running through my head, I got a train to Bastille to see the monument that is made particularly important on each July 14th – Bastille Day, the National Day for France. An announcement in French was heard on the train, and I only understood what had been said once the train passed by the station I wanted without stopping. Not minding the extra walk to clear my head, I dodged intermittent rain drops on the way to the monument. By the time I arrived dark clouds had gathered and made the gold statue on top of the monument stand out even more. Rain started to fall more heavily then, and I made my way to Ile St-Louis to find an ice-cream shop some French girls in Rome had recommended I try. I managed to find the shop, and it did look fancy, however I was still full from having eaten a large slice of fruit crumble earlier in the day, so didn’t taste the reputedly fantastic ice-cream.
I walked past the famous Notre-Dame, and came across a bridge where couples place a lock with their names and date on it, attached to the fence and railing of the bridge. It was the same concept as I saw in Florence in Italy, however the number of locks here covered the entire length of the bridge. There was a bride and groom having their pictures taken with the locks in the background and, with the incident from the train station still fresh in my memory, I wondered what people do with their locks if that relationship ends… Do they remove the lock or simply cross out that name and inscribe the next partner’s name below? Interesting concept, although not one I’d voice to a newly married couple!
The lines to go up the Eiffel Tower were still long, so I wrote some postcards while standing in line underneath. I met a couple from Newcastle in NSW and we talked whilst waiting the hour in line on the ground, then another 45 minutes on the first level to get the lift to the top. From various comments they made I don’t think they were concerned about money at all, and they kindly bought me a glass of champagne when we finally reached the top of the tower – one glass cost €10 so I certainly wasn’t going to buy it myself! The views were nice, and it was just as the sun was setting (10pm) that I got to the top, so I saw the city lights come on, just like Sydney appears from the top of the bridge. I was just back on the ground at 11pm when the lights on the Tower start to sparkle, and I was once again impressed, and decided the Tower had more of an impact when looking at it from the ground up than from at the top.