by Monica Kaufman Pearson
Paris: cosmopolitan, fashionable, chic, The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Bastille, Notre-Dame and the list goes on and on. It is the city of lights and the city of dreams. You may wonder, what is left for “A Toe in the Water” to explore.
Seeing Paris through the eyes of Ricki Stevenson is worth the trip. She is a former U.S. TV anchor and reporter, who founded Black Paris Tours, www.blackparistour.com.
For some of the well-known tourist sites I mentioned, you will see, there is a connection to people of color, from entertainer, Josephine Baker, to abolitionists, William Wells Brown and Frederick Douglass, to singer Ray Charles, to all the great jazz musicians and the 369th Harlem Hellfighters.
This is a walking, bus, train, public transportation tour, so be sure you get a metrocard and you wear comfortable shoes. It is a money and timesaver card when getting around. Also have some euro because you will be going to some places where they don’t take credit cards.
The highlight of the tour is Little Africa. You leave the train in the 18 arrondissments, walk down the stairs and walk into a country within a country. African people from former French colonies live, work and trade here. The women are dressed in traditional attire from Senegal, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Abidjan. etc. The open air markets are filled with fresh produce and meat, all kinds of stuff. There is haggling over prices, not in French but patois and dialects used back home. The call to prayer at the mosque is haunting, as you sit down in a restaurant, this one Senegalese. You are transported from France to Africa, as food, drink, sights and sounds slip into your spirit.
But that is just one part of a daylong tour that highlights the contributions and visits by people of color to France. You see the statue of Alexandre Dumas, mainly known as the author of “The Count of Monte Cristo” and ”The Three Musketeers”. But most people don’t know he was black…his grandmother, a Haitian slave and his grandfather, French.
And across from his sculpture there are giant shackles. Our guide told us, this is the first large scale monument in Europe, acknowledging the involvement of France in the slave trade.
If you are a boxing fan, you’ll see where boxers such as Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, once trained and where Bob Marley once played.
At the end of the day, you are seeing Paris in a very different light.
A word of warning: White Americans be gracious..don’t be the so called “Ugly American”. Yes, we liberated France but that is history. Please remember to treat people as you would want to be treated. Speaking fluent French will help too or at least trying to speak French. But it is a different story for Black Americans. If you are fluent in French, know when and where to use it. There is some ill-will towards immigrants, but when it is obvious, you are from the U.S., you are treated warmly. They feel you are helping the economy and not taking away from it.
So “ A Toe In The Water” says jump in with both feet and see Paris in a most unique way. Almost forgot, when you are on Ile Saint Louis, where Notre Dame is located, a must, ice cream from Berthillion. Heavenly!!!!!!