Saturdays in the nineteenth district of Paris are very special days. There are the days when those who were too busy running here and there earlier during the week finally take the time to breathe and meet their pals for a walk or just for a chat in front of a hot cup of coffee at the bar at round of the corner. This shared habit starts very early in the morning with the long queues at the banks and post offices of the district. People gather in order to get the cash they need for the weekends. It sometimes seems that the whole neighborhood has decided to meet up there. This gives some the opportunity to see those who during the week do wake up early in the morning and only come back home late at night; Friends that had not been seen for ages. The France of: “those who get up early” as the French president Nicolas Sarkozy points it out.
Last Saturday I decided to behave as anybody else in the district. At ten o’clock in the morning I was already out heading towards the post office to get a little of some cash, hoping deep in my heart that I was not going to meet too many people I know. Not that I do not like people or socializing but more because it seems that whenever someone
meets an old friend in the nineteenth district of Paris that one has to explain how well or bad he is now doing in his adult life. That generally ends up in showing off or crying on one’s own fate.
When I entered the post office I was first shocked to see how fully packed it was; people of all ages, sexes and races had decided to meet up there to withdraw money and parcels destined to them. I then decided to look at the whole situation from a broader angle. Where am I? That question was difficult to answer. There was really no predominant ethnic group at the post office. Had a tourist first landed there in a few days visit of the Capital; for sure, that one would have hardly believed he was in France. Different languages were spoken at the same
time and different dressing codes worn in the same place. There I met Mamadou Cassé, a teenager going to the same state school I am working in. The boy was accompanied by his dad. He was somehow shy and scared for I could have well reveal to his Dad part of his loving affairs at Georges Rouault high school. The conversation and greeting were therefore short with a small smile of acknowledgement on both mouths.
In order to not look at him so that he could feel at ease in the presence of his father I decided to try to ignore him. To achieve such g€oal I found nothing better to do than open the first book for sale I could find on a shelf at the post office. The book read: The XIX district of Paris 1848-1948. It contained old pictures of the streets of the district. I could recognize many of the streets quite familiar to me. As to the people who posed on the pictures they really were of another world, remote and unknown to me. There were strange characters in strange moustaches, strange ladies to whom appearance seemed to be of no importance; all of them rather short or too fat. In the book the ethnic minorities of the nineteenth district also seemed to have vanished. All the characters had the same European features; a more homogeneous lot compared to that of the twenty first century. It was also hard to believe that most of the characters in the book, if not all of them, had finally passed away and been replaced by new faces; more coloured ones, with some obvious lineage in the far away and remote places of this world. A term was finally put to my reverie through the voice a machine calling my ticket number. Some few minutes later I was out in the street again with the cash in my right pocket. Nothing had really changed; the large and old buildings of the nineteenth district were at the same place. The smell and atmosphere were the same as in the pictures of the book. I even thought for a short while I was myself a character living in that book. But for the new characters who had come with part of their culture and way of life, nothing had really changed, indeed.
And the question lingering in my mind was then the following: But what if the notions of liberty, equality, brotherhood had not been designed and thought for this diverse population mainly originating from the former colonies?