I’m sleepless in Paris.
The sky is wearing the same hues and shades it did on that February afternoon when I first landed in Paris. The view out the window is the same and just as beautiful. It has been the same for over a hundred years.
Yet, what was once new is not. At about this time, everyday, I smell peppered steak (fish on weekends) and hear it sizzle in one of the kitchens below me. The Greek concierge, who prefers underwear to trousers, argues with his other Greek friends over dinner – their shadows mingle in the square of red light on the opposite wall. Whistles and screams from along the quai make their occasional visit over the rooftops. Later on, the Algerian woman will connect to Skype and her problems will echo up and down the void that tie the four buildings together. And someone will light up a spliff that will stink up the stairway. The two young men will leave for the evening, their little puppy will cry and I will run to my window to see his cute little puppy eyes and consider, for the Nth time, to put up a sign that says, “I can babysit your dog”.
Homeless David doesn’t scare me anymore; we look at one another knowingly. We know that the morning I stood freezing outside my door while he was lying beside it on a discarded mattress was the beginning of an urban relationship that will one day lead us to a proper conversation. The restaurant in my street, I have walked past so many times, that it is now rude to not say hello when I come and go.
The way I walk past the tourists at my metro station sets me apart and the vending machine is my point de repère to leave the final metro station the fastest way possible.
But I only own this much; the rest of the city reminds me that I am but a stranger and will always be.
Is it possible to belong anywhere in this world?
Belonging has ceased to be a place. Belonging is now a situation. It is a locus, an effective or perceived location.
What are the repercussions?
There aren’t any. It leads us to the here and now. It leads us to temporal contexts, situations of time, relationships of time, people of time, to a loss of responsibility. What was once will not be, no matter how many times you go back.
Look at Beirut, places are literally dying. Look at Paris, places are only shadows of what they used to be. Look at everywhere else – change is faster than change itself.
Forget where you come from, because that village you never lived in, that city you never knew completely, that destination you never visited.
We are a generation of situations. I look at a map and I can tell you where I lived a moment, but to go back there and find that the walls recognize me more than I do them is an emotion to be written about in the pages of history.
But here, I am talking about the city. Mountains will recognize you, trees that have not yet been uprooted will recognize you. But I’m talking about the city.
The city walls no longer speak of us, but Facebook walls do. They speak of people wanting to be known, be it by conforming or standing apart, they speak of people that want to be heard, be it by saying something or liking something else. They speak of want and thirst and hunger. They speak of roots up in the air. They speak of a search for ground, a yearning to belong somewhere, sometime even if for the span of that minute it takes you to look through your notifications.
It feels good to be liked.
It feels good to be written to.
It feels good to provoke reactions.
This is our situation. You only belong for as long as you’re being reacted to.
You belong to parties, to social circles, to trends, to labels, to brands. You belong to reactions. No consequences, no aftermath, no reputation on your heels – is this the final freedom?
It’s temporal freedom, it’s temporary freedom. But I’m talking about my city.