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Paris v Fox News: On Urban Poetics

In the past fortnight, there has been a concerted effort to defend the image of Paris in the face of Fox News’s assertions that Paris is a dangerous city with ‘no-go zones’  were Sharia Law (read: lawlessness) reigns. Evidently, this is quite an exxageration.

Representation and Urban Poetics

The importance of language in representing Paris has been long appreciated. And, reactions to Fox News’s choice of words show that Parisians in the 21st Century still appreciate the need to control the  words used to frame the city.

During the Renaissance,  as the printing press fueled the spread of information, French authors quickly realized the  importance of controlling the narrative on the city. Language was seen, as Elisabeth Hodge and other scholars of the period have noted,  as a tool to  re-present the city and shape the self-understanding of its inhabitants. This intersection between language, the city, and self understanding is referred to as ‘Urban Poetics’. That is to say, while the city is a  built environment sustained by  particular patterns of social life, and  political organisation – language is also very important  to the construction of meaning and selfhood.

As such, Renaissance writers (cases in point: Montaigne, Pascal) deployed language to  define Paris and the Selfhood of people living in the city. In short, it has long been clear that language is as important as the actual space in crafting self-understanding and the life of the city.

Enter: Fox News

Fox News  tried to re-present of Paris as dangerous (the video below being one instance of many):

This  inspired  floods of emails demanding  an apology from Parisians and other French people. The channel  was compelled to oblige. Forcing Fox News to apologize for a poorly representing this  city was not only a testament to people power. It also re-iterated that which Pascal, Montaigne and other literary figures of the Renaissance in Paris understood: Language and urban poetics are powerful tools  in the representation of the city and in self understanding.

Laughing all the way to the Court

Part of the struggle over language was fought through humour, and particularly through the satirical television show Le Petit Journal.  Below is a subtitled video  produced by  . This made for entertaining television last week.

Jokes Aside, See you in court?

Apparently, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo,  is taking it up a notch and suing Fox News over the misrepresentation of Paris. (See this article from The Guardian and the mayor speaking with CNN, below). Now,  whether the case has merit in the United States  remains to be seen. However, what is clear is something that has long been asserted here: the battle over language and the framing of this city must be valiantly fought.

#JeSuisCharlie: Reading New Discourses through Parisian graffiti and posters

Paris has rapidly gone through stages of  shock, then silent grief, and today seemed to be a highpoint of defiance and backlash.

The graffiti and posters emerging out of this time expose an interesting  discourse beginning to emerge  – or rather, new lines of debate.  A week ago, the economy, youth unemployment were key.

The public discourse seems to be shifting, at least for now.

Here are a few recurring themes or frames that have emerged.They are instructive as to how people are constructing meaning to  the events  of the past week.

Nationalism 2.0? Nationalist Narrative

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Text as Power

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Equality is so 2013: The  (re)New(ed)centrality of liberty

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The Politics of Laughter:Humor as transgressive and a challenge to Power

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Answer to Identity Crisis: ‘Charlie’ as individual and collective identity

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From Place de la République

From Place de la République

I was going to write a poem about this important moment for Paris and France because it is difficult to capture the many thoughts and sentiments that the Charlie Hebdo incident provokes  (an apparent lack of talent, and a reality check dissuaded me from doing so).

However,  in encountering the difficulty of articulating the space between thought and the written word made me appreciate what Charlie Hebdo achieves through its satirical work.

Charlie Hebdo articulates the liminal, those in-between spaces that do not easily lend themselves to the written or spoken word: gasps, sighs, silences, the unsayable.

Paris is palpably saddened for reasons that fall into that space that defies definition. It would be great to have a sketch, a cartoon, caricature to capture this moment.

In one regard, it is an offensive assault on the values that French people (and others who have moved here)  hold dear: the liberty to be and to say, the sense of equality and a jealously protected togetherness in the defense of those values.

Yet, beyond being a personal affront, the Charlie Hebdo incident provokes sober reflection on much more complex philosophical, political,religious questions not to be explored here or now.

It is a sad moment for the city and for the country partly because of the injustice of seeing mischievous, boyish souls lose their lives at the hands of feckless cowards.

For those who knew them well, it probably is an even more confusing moment that will never find resolution.

How inadequate words are in capturing the sense of sorrow that currently pervades Paris. However, one hopes that present  sorrow will evolve into a series of hopeful horizons, although there is equal chance of  sorrow devolving into cynicism and anger.  This blogger fervently hopes for the former.

Into the Parisian Woods

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It is January, temperatures are low. However, for the determined jogger, reasonable layering and minimal precautions against the cold  are all you need to jog without doing yourself damage in and around Paris.

The region’s climate, at least over the most recent winters, seems not be inhibitive to outdoor movement (relative to weather further North in the continent and elsewhere).  Yes, there have been spells of terribly cold weather that have made limiting oneself to the gym sufficient.  Nonetheless, pavement pounding is possible throughout much of the year.

Strangely enough, it is not so much frostbite that poses  the greatest threat to the dedicated jogger, but rather  the prospect of killer looks that are sometimes vaulted in the direction of people jogging or cycling in ‘cold’ weather (this contrasts strongly to London where eccentricity is widely understood and at times encouraged. It is not at all odd to take a jog around Westminster at, say, 10 pm at night in winter).

Across the channel,  however, I have seen and heard fascinating gestures of disapproval of joggers and have been traumatized by the debates in the past decade about jogging as un-French, undignified and anti-intellecutual.   This adds an additional layer of psychological preparation for winter time time jogging.

Once one takes the first steps into the cold (and for this blogger – into the woods of Bois de Vincennes)  the rewards are immense: there is the prospect of decompressing, clearing one’s mind before hitting the books and maybe even structuring one’s mind to get pages done toward completing the dissertation. There is also a world of fellow eccentrics running in low temperatures.

The more one does it, the more it seems as though the antipathy against joggers in Paris is a confluence of exaggeration, imagination, and a dash of laziness.  Paris’s weather makes it a great place to jog in during most seasons of the year.

Changed Relationship Status: A Parisian New Year’s Eve


A fourth New Years’ Eve in Paris was a landmark for this blogger: I realized that the city had grown on me. The marvel of first being in Paris has faded, the honeymoon is over. We’re officially committed to each other now.

Rather than an artifact to dissect, and sing praises, the city has become familiar, breeding the attendant  love for Paris and contempt on some days.

Having two friends over from the US for New Year’s Eve was the first opportunity to realize what Paris  now means to me: they were both overwhelmed by the beauty of the city, as was I – yet, the quality of my appreciation was tempered with a knowledge of the less flattering truths about the city. Paris, I realized, was a gorgeous sight to behold but also tightly and heavily managed to maintain its looks.

The sense of nuance was swiftly confirmed as we began to scramble for transport in the wee hours of the morning. The metro was not working as efficiently as it should have been. It was ‘free’, yes. However, the frequency of trains was insufficient to get everyone home in good time. A grouchy voice barked over the loudspeakers about the metro service coming to an end and that announcement was received by a deafening din of disapproval from reveling tourists and the passive aggressive grunts of Parisians.

Paris was still the prettiest city to be in, but no longer unstained: it had the power to awe and fascinate, aggravate and irritate.

Then, there was a chance encounter with a gaggle of goofs from my home country and their fellow minions from other parts of the English speaking world: Drunk, poorly dressed and loud. It must have been my own poor sense of dress that made it obvious I was one of them. So, they swarmed around me with inane jokes and offensive banter. They reminded me of the virtues of my adopted city. I realized Paris had become a place where I can also assume a new sense of self, indulge my delusions of grandeur and look down upon my compatriots. Paris, in essence, has evolved into a defense mechanism for my unresolved issues with myself and my home country(ies). One could call it a giant therapist’s chair.

For these reasons, Paris has become a saving space, a lived experience that is increasingly overshadowing my innocence of old about the city and it is also a reminder that one can be all that they set their minds to – it is a space of possibility. It has become simultaneously mundane and transcendent.

Source for image: WikiHow Anon's Paris

Source for image: WikiHow
Anon’s Paris

I would love to try to blog about the city with this new perspective of Paris as both lived and transformative space in 2015: To fill the blog with posts that are more true to the experience of living here as both an  un-amused resident and significantly transformed and bewitched by her beauty.

Here’s to a fantastic year of blogging this city that I love immensely and take for granted in equal measure,



Paris, this time, 70 years ago…

The past weekend was all about the decisive allied intervention in Normandy that turned  the tide of the Second World War.

For Paris, liberation was not too far in the future.

But, one would imagine that the atmosphere would have been tense and uncertain in occupied Paris.

Late Night News

Delivered by night, overhead. Freedom was coming soon; Source: Coll. Laurent Albaret, DR

Delivered by night, overhead. Freedom was coming soon.Source: Coll. Laurent Albaret, DR

On the 10th of June, the British tract, Le Courrier de l’air  would be printed and then delivered over the course of the following days, overhead and at night, to occupied areas of France, informing them about the success on the beaches of Normandy.

Occupied Life

The  experience of the city remained that of an occupied territory. The sights, sounds, and the broader sensory experience of  Paris were oppressive, one might imagine.

Here are a few images of the time that I found striking, while combing through archives of the time:

Age and a Sense of Occupation

Earlier on during orld War 2, a reminder that the city, even in times of war, is 'sensed' and defined according to different 'temporalities', (senses of time, age...) Source: Roger-Viollet/LAPI

Earlier on during World War 2, children playing, a reminder that experience of the city, even in times of war, is ‘sensed’ and defined according to different ‘temporalities’, (senses of time, age…)
Source: Roger-Viollet/LAPI

Fabulous and Fierce Under Fire

The show had to go on, even in occupied Paris. This is an image of Jean Cocteau and cabaret chanteuse, Suzy Solidor. Source: Hexagone Gay

The show had to go on, even in occupied Paris. This is an image of Jean Cocteau and cabaret chanteuse, Suzy Solidor.  Music and entertainment and even queer life took on new shapes and forms during the occupation. Source: Hexagone Gay

The Fearful Sound of Thudding Boots

This image of the onset of occupation is a frightening one to imagine - as a moment of deathly silence and the domination of the soundscape by the thud of army boots. Source: LAPI/Roger Viollet

This image of the onset of occupation is a frightening one to imagine – the moment of deathly silence among inhabitants of the city, and the domination of the soundscape by the thud of army boots and other military sounds. Thankfully, the soundscape today reflects that of a free city Source: LAPI/Roger Viollet

Stripping the city

Paris was not subject to some of the more extensive damage of other parts of the country -a nd continent. But, this image shows occupied forces loading images to strip them of precious metals to finance the extended stay. Talk about outstaying one's welcome. Source: Roger violet//LAPI

Paris was not subject to some of the more extensive damage of other parts of the country and continent. But, this image demonstrates  how occupied forces loaded sculptures and art to strip them of precious metals to finance the extended stay. Talk about outstaying one’s welcome. -when the ‘guest’ begins selling the silverware… Source: Roger violet//LAPI

Forced Taste

In this image, Parisians queue for vouchers for food and heating. Source: Roger Voillet/LAPI

In this image, Parisians queue for vouchers for food and heating. This  image ought to demand that one enjoy Paris of today – the freedom to go out and the power we have over our sense of taste and the luxury to choose from a variety of some of the best restaurants on earth. Source: Roger Voillet/LAPI


Still to come…

Here, in a liberated city, Parisians gather to listen to Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Source:LAPI/Roger Viollet

Here, in a liberated city, Parisians gather to listen to Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Source:LAPI/Roger Viollet