Below is an assignment I wrote for "Travel writing", one of my courses I am studying at university. The guideline was to write: A personal travel piece to consist of three scenes and to be guided, thematically, by either 'Home' or 'Stranger in a Strange Land'. (600 words). Here's my attempt, which I hope you enjoy it.
We hadn’t seen the Eiffel Tower yet. Nor the glass pyramids of the Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe was on our list but we would get there later.
At present we were bundled into a train that would take us and our cases from Paris’ main station to the suburb of Saint Denis. The train was nicer than the ones we had used in London, being both clean and colourful, as well as featuring large windows to watch the metro tunnels flash by. It did, however, suffer from the same problem the English ones had: people.
The people had the seats, meaning we had to stand with one hand holding onto the train, and the other clinging to our suitcases. It was then that we discovered the problem with four wheeled cases - they like to roll even when you want them to stay still. But, between getting squashed by people and trying to say sorry in French (“Desole! Desole!”), we got through okay. Even the nine and six year olds managed without too much of a whimper. In this way we found ourselves walking out of Saint-Denis’ main train station into a large square.
It felt like we had walked into an upmarket version of Port Moresby, a city often made out to be one of the most dangerous in the world. Above us a clock hung on the end of a modern, L-shaped sculpture. The buildings on the other side of the square were classically European, stacked up against each other in various shades of yellow. A white suspension bridge stretched over a canal towards these two and three story houses, while a glistening tramway curved through the streets on its way to and from the train station. It was next to this tramway that the fight broke out.
Jardin des Tuileries is far from the city suburbs and close to the tourist heart of Paris. Somehow the gardens remain peaceful despite the abundance of both tourists and locals, so that when you are walking through the cultivated landscape of pristine lawns, well watered plants, and statues of Julius Caesar, you really do feel like you’ve entered the France sold to you in brochures and travel posters. A few hundred metres behind you is the Place de la Concorde where a three thousand year old obelisk stands, a “gift” from Egypt. In front is the Musée du Louvre with its glass pyramids.
Caught up in the history and culture, you can find it easy to ignore the people that pester you to buy anything from sunglasses to paintings of Paris to mechanical birds that soar into the sky before crashing down to the earth.
The fight started as we were asking some police officers for directions (i.e. “bonjour”, pointing, showing maps, “merci”). After giving us a hasty, but polite, reply, they hopped onto their bicycles and rolled over to where a group of African-French people had gathered. Upon seeing the police they slowly dispersed, leaving a man sprawled on the ground. We kept the children close as we walked purposefully towards the tram stop.
After eventually finding our accommodation - a small, multi-storied French house, and our first experience of Airbnb - we set out for Carrefour (a major French supermarket) to grab food for tomorrow’s trip to the Jardin des Tuileries. As we walked through the streets we passed by a church in a state of repair, the bricks of which look to have been scorched by fire. Inside the cathedral lies all but three of France’s kings. Outside lies an expanding immigrant community waiting for their country to help.
p.s. the cover picture is of the local market in St Denis. This market was so big it poured out from the main square and into side streets. Quite the mix of ethnicities and a pretty cool experience. Below is an image of the church I mentioned.