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Big City Odour: A Life Lesson from the Dirt of Paris

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I had to travel to another metropolis to learn to appreciate the one I live in.

Concrete jungles test the mettle you’re made of. In the midst of great diversity the wind could blow you in all directions, on the other hand you have plenty of paths to choose to tread. This could be an opportunity to discover yourself in ways you’d never imagined… we often hope it is.

Why then does it seem to do more harm than good?

Self-destruction conceals itself in all sorts of fashionable garb in the big cities. The worst of it being selling ourselves short for materialism. The way we end up buying into perceptions as reality and this defining who we are and who we become. Our very worth is determined by the brand of our cell phone.

It’s true that not all of this affects us in the same manner. The other truth is, that it affects us,  whether we acknowledge it or not. In order for us to make a choice (although, often this has little effect on the outcome) we must acknowledge that we’re being affected.

Denial almost beat me. Until I came back from Paris.

Being in a completely foreign environment for an extended period without a single familiar face for comfort, made metropolitan menaces less subtle. I had a greater awareness of disparities and became more conscious of social currencies. I learnt that the pressure to do as Romans do, when in Rome, is bound to overcome you at some point- even if it’s only temporary.

First, I had to fall into the trap.

In my first two weeks in the city of ‘CHIC’, I became very uncomfortable with who I was. Given the obsession with aesthetics it seemed logical that looking like you belong was essential. Buying into the notion that face value is the governing factor in human relations. It seemed that being French, before being an individual was an integral part of life in Paris

Numerous questions swirled in my mind once I got out of this haze.

On one occasion I got lost in the suburbs. This was an early eye opener. It was peak (human-traffic) hour. The tram got so full the door gave in to the pressure of the human bodies that were packed in like sardines. All the faces representing the foreign minorities trying to make ends meet. I hadn’t witnessed such a sight inside Paris…I wondered about who the “French values”  were extended to, in a land in which difference appears to be a sin.

While my stay in Paris gave me enough time with her to see her bold red lipstick smudge and her mascara run, the city wasn’t all grime.  

It’s easy to fall in love with the City of Love. The city is so charming that aching feet don’t dampen the desire to keep prodding-on to see what aesthetic pleasure will entice you around the corner.

On a number of occasions, I took pleasure in having lunch alone in the parks. Watching French moms chatting on benches, while their children played happily; girls (with the same fashion sense) chowing McDonalds meals that’d never reached their thighs or couples kissing and whispering on each other’s lips.  

Sight attractions after the park (if human traffic wasn’t being a pain in the ass) included lean petite French guys strutting  their stuff on the busy pavements. On one occasion my new friend shared her fascination with these men… “I don’t know,” she said with her Spanish accent, “… have you seen the men here? They’re so… I don’t know how to say. They’re like ladies”.Tight jeans and meticulous outfits set the locals apart from the foreigners, till (like my new friend) the foreigners invested in a whole new wardrobe.

Much like ‘Johazardburg’ (Johannesburg- The City of Gold).

People travel from all over Southern Africa to lose themselves to the wealth of this polluted city. So rich with history, culture and American accents… you can be whatever you like, and break before you’ve gathered your thoughts.

The attractions are enticing till it sinks in that you are a human being! An individual with an identity that evolves with individual experiences, not just with social currents. I wrote a note to myself in my journal, stating: I am here to learn about these people, not to become one of them. And even here at home. Here in this lifetime… I am just here to learn about you and them’s and us's… I’m not here to become one of anything. I’m here to discover.


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