What better way to discover the real, unfettered Paris than to befriend squatters, right?
Squat [skwot]: to settle on or occupy property, esp. otherwise unoccupied property, without any title, right, or payment of rent, as per http://www.dictionary.reference.com/.
I can envision the expressions of my disgruntled parents as I type…but have no fear. You may imagine a squat to be inhabited by hobos, unfurnished, carcasses of McDonald’s trash strewn about the floor or else crack pipes. In fact, it was apparent to me quite fast that squatting is not a practice reserved for the riff raff, street rats—at least not at this squat. This one was filled up with young people, students trying to put themselves through school and needing cheap living in an expensive city or else artists trying to make a living off of mixed media expositions—clearly without much success. The rooms are surprisingly clean, and I say surprisingly because kids these days so often have little concern for old fashioned values of tidiness. The common space is well furnished and decorated with various art pieces; the basement is decked out in strobe lights fit for an epileptic fit and space for bands to play or art expositions to be exposed. The dwellers make a meager living off of entrance fees to art shows and by running open bars at their social events. Still, these night-life activities are much cheaper than the cost of any ‘legal’ Paris museum or club. Another friend of mine told me that in other European countries if a building is left vacant for more than 30 days, in fact the people have the legal right to inhabit the space without paying. Perhaps this is the case in France as well, although my friend’s apartment is getting repossessed…so perhaps not. Either way, the whole notion of squatting drips of youthfulness and communist fervor—ah Paris!
One night this week, a rainy one begging for the world to hole up in a cozy apartment, I was at the squat with yagirls and our friend Andre was designated DJ for the night. We listened to everything from Liszt to Damian Marley & Nas to Django Reinhardt. Sometime in between the classical and gypsy jazz, Andre put on an artist named Georges Brassens. His sound is akin to Reinhardt but with more folk influence. His peak was in the 60s from what I’ve heard, but he’s remained an icon in the eyes of the French (in fact, google George Brassens and you find the park in the southern corner of the 15eme arrondissement--that’s my hood!). I’m not quite expert enough in the French language to understand all that he says, I think a lot of his lyrics are jeu des mots (word play); but he was described to me by one of the squatters as being ‘really hardcore’.
I’ll leave it to you to decide:
To cap off my ultra-French weekend I tried my hand at cooking. I made a simple and also well-known French dish, ratatouille. It’s a little on the salty side but why bother pointing that out when the pictures are so pretty!