Thursday, February 15, 2007


The water flows high and fast under the bridges in this city I visit too often without ever being remotely a part of it or really seeing it. The high water implies that one can not walk along the canal, and as a consequence the homeless, who like to sleep under these bridges, out of the rain, relatively out of the wind, have no where to go. Further along the quai there is a tent city. Flyers that have been stuck to some trees inform me of a demonstration by ‘Les Enfants de Don Quichote’, Don Quichote’s children. In front of a larger community tent kids are burning scavenged wood in a metal vat. The youngsters prepare a demonstration on a square from where they have been chased. I ask: What is the demonstration about? “They don’t listen, they promised us a place to stay.” is their answer. “Nobody listens, some of us here, their parents don’t even listen.” They are homeless. The tents have been bought with money people donated. They have been here for over a month, almost two. Walking on I see that as always there are dogs around. No toilets. Some tie their place up seriously for fear of loosing their precious few possessions. Some who are ‘home’ left their sneakers out… The city picks up the garbage and two older guys tell me that usually the police leaves them alone, however blankets will be removed from portals in the rest of the town. It is a kind of free republic. A man about forty-five -but who can tell- curly hair, dark eyes, a few small tattoos, bad teeth insists he is on this road by choice. He used to have an apartment and it was too hard. He didn’t like to work and pay the bills. ‘There was no time left to have a good life. One used to be able to live on 5 € per day, now 10 € doesn’t get one anywhere.’ They tell me: ‘ We hold meetings, but then there are only a few who are always talking, interrupting, screaming and being angry. They don’t let others speak. So even they don’t listen, we don’t even listen to each other. There are a lot of fights; we live really in close quarters.’ The distance between his tent and the one of a blond blue-eyed guy with worn black shoes is maybe one foot, 30 centimeter. The latter had a job and an apartment with a cardboard wall between him and a pita place that only closed at two and he had to get up at five. Impossible, he lost the place and his job. They are not going to the demonstration. Rain is threatening, the dark eyed man is covering the tent with silver foil that keeps in the heat. Through an opening I see a blanket, a coat, a pillow, a strip of medication, a book, a few pieces of twine… No mattress between the bottom of the tent and the pavement. He checks me out and seriously says: ’You have a job.’ Smiling I say yes, I chose that road. They both agree on the government and the citizens in general: ‘Its easy to give us bread and oranges, but to give us another chance to get back into a better life, an apartment just seems impossible. They make it too hard! And nobody listens…’ I take my leave, greet them and walk to the hotel. In their world twine is a survival tool, in mine wifi is. Theirs is life outside the margins of power, down and out in Paris and London and all the major cities of the world. Mine is looking in from the sideline.

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