Thursday, November 10, 2005

As I said, Paris is ALWAYS a good idea

Paris is now less than two weeks away, and I am getting very excited. I am practicing my French (three years of high school French comes back surprisingly quickly, even if that was well over 10 years ago), reading guidebooks and planning our itinerary.

Some of my friends have asked me if I’m worried about the unrest. I’m really not; all of the rioting so far has been taking place well out into the suburbs, and the only time I will even see any of the results will be on the train into and out of the city. Even this is reported as safe; while trains have had rocks thrown at them, this has been late at night; we’ll be traveling through those areas during the day.

I haven’t even looked into postponing the trip; there’s no use in living in fear, or you’ll never go anywhere. There are dangerous neighborhoods in Detroit that are closer to my house than we’ll be to the disturbances in Paris. I drive through neighborhoods on the way to work that I know not to stop in. In a metropolitan area, it stands to reason that threatening situations could exist near you. You don’t let it worry you.

And I think the final factor in the equation is that I consider myself a Detroiter. That doesn’t make me a badass, or someone who thinks he can go anywhere and be fine because he’s a Detroiter, or even that it gives me any special amount of street cred, although it has. (The best way to shut down a Carolina Redneck who sneers, “Y’all ain’t from ‘round here” is to reply, calmly “No, I’m from Detroit.” That smoothes things out real quick.)

I think that being a Detroiter, and in fact probably being from any major city, makes you more aware of your surroundings. When you’re in a metropolitan area where people are stacked on top of one another, you’re better able to feel out any situation, and decide immediately if you don’t want to be there. I am originally from a rural area, but I think I have picked up this skill when I moved to the city. My brother has never lived in the city, and he is usually quite oblivious to situations.

Is it a survival skill? I think so. I think it’s something one needs to develop in order to make it in congested areas. Awareness of one’s surroundings is important.

When we were in New Orleans, stumbling drunkenly from bar to bar around the French Quarter, we accidentally walked out of the touristy area. Within 100 yards, we realized that things were very uncomfortable, and people were staring (even though we were wearing feather boas, that's pretty standard for the French Quarter), it was painfully obvious we didn't want to be where we were, and we promptly turned around and walked back in to a better area.

Conversely, when we were in London, we followed a friend’s recommendation to check out a particular neighborhood. When we got there, it was obvious it was a poor rough neighborhood. Buildings were boarded up, and graffiti was everywhere. But the people on the street were genuinely friendly, the food was excellent, and the Guinness was cheap. We didn’t feel unsafe, and we had a great night.

I think that says it all about being from the city; it doesn’t make you tougher than anyone else, it does let you know when you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, or when an area is safer than it looks.

So we’re going to Paris. We’re going a bit cautiously; the U.S. Embassy will have our itinerary and information in case anything happens, but I am more concerned about being able to order a glass of wine without looking like an ass than being swept up in civil unrest.


Jennifer said...

"...there’s no use in living in fear, or you’ll never go anywhere."

Damn straight!

You are taking a camera, right?

My mother grew up in Rosedale Park and was allowed, in 1947, to take the bus to Hudson's, unescorted, at age 7. Growing up in Flushing, I remember my first trip into Flint at the same age to see the eye doctor. Apparently Mom had lost her city kid awareness after so many years in suburbia -- or maybe not. The guy who tried to snatch her purse that day was not successful. It rattled me nevertheless.

I also remember driving, in 1990, from Catalpa & Woodward down to the Sacred Heart Seminary. At 8 am the streets were eerily empty. By noon, for the drive home, I considered stop lights optional.

I never felt unsafe in London or midtown Manahttan, even after dark. San Francisco ... the need for awareness kicks in, no matter the neighborhood. The worst we got, though, was from a passing punk who sneered at Mr. Z, "I'll screw your woman!" 8:00 pm on a nice street in Chinatown. Go figure.

Paris should be wonderful. My mother says the Parisians were friendly, helpful, and eager to please. Enjoy!

Segue said...

A few years ago, I DJ'd every Friday at a club in the middle of one of Cincinnati's worst areas (I should explain that downtown Cincinnati sits right next to Over The Rhine, which is pretty much THE slum in the area, and the club district sits right on the line). When I got off work at 2:30am, there were always some very, ah, interesting people outside.

There was another club right across the street called The Warehouse. One night an off-duty police officer spotted someone he knew to have a bunch of warrants, and he chased him. The chase led into an alley around the corner, and the suspect ended up getting shot and killed because the officer believed he was pulling a weapon from his pants.

Timothy Thomas' death incited some pretty serious race riots... You probably heard about it on the news. White people pretty much stayed out of the area for quite awhile after that. Both clubs (which happened to attract white clientele) went out of business.

Have you ever seen the movie "Traffic"? The scenes where the drug czar's son (played by Topher Grace) and his girlfriend are buying drugs in the ghetto were filmed less than three blocks from the club. That's not a movie set... That's exactly what it looks like.

Being down there never bothered me much, even after I got robbed at gunpoint (and had my wallet and cellphone taken).

But I don't fault white people for avoiding black neighborhoods. That is a very effective method of avoiding crime and bodily harm.

Now there's a double-standard no one ever mentions:

If a black person walks into an all-white neighborhood, there is a realistic possibility that they will suffer some sort of discrimination, even if it only occurs in the minds of the white people.

If a white person walks into an all-black neighborhood, there is a realistic possibility that they will get robbed. White people know it. Black people know it. That's just the way it is.

tanagrame said...

Fear exists everywhere. I've lived all over the country, and crime and racism are abundant no matter where you travel. However, the most disturbing thing I've seen (and I grew up in Detroit, knowing a few things about blacks vs whites) was in a small southwestern Florida town called Old Homassassa. It's a tropical place along a traversing canal leading to the Gulf of Mexico, lined with beautiful Spanish moss filled trees. Posted on those trees were signs that said "No Niggers Allowed." This was in 1989. Seems like a long time ago in certain ways, but not for that one.

Angeline Rose Larimer said...

I want to go to Paris more than any other place, even still.
This week, riots.
Four months ago, Tom Cruise & the TomKat crap.
A couple of months before that, Oprah (you remember, when she couldn't get into that purse store because it was after hours).
Paris is Paris is why I want to go...(not me stuttering. was trying to copy Gertrude Stein.)

PLEASE take pictures of literary people's houses if you pass them by. Okay? And, well, be careful, too. Make sure to pronounce Detroit the French way if someone tries to F with you.

Clairwil said...

And a very good post it was too Mr PaulB. I've been to Paris and in my experience you'd need to make a fair old effort to stray off the tourist/safe path. Even the Red light district is fine, I strutted through it, often alone at all hours of the night and early morning and encountered no problems at all.

Paprika said...

in the infinite wisdom of the australian blockbuster strictly ballroom:
"vivir con miedo es como vivir medios"

...or something like that.