Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Tuesday 11 July 2017

This area, not far from the Gare de l'Est, is another of the eastern Parisian neighbourhoods with all the signs of gentrification.

There's a nondescript street door for the building I'm in, between a graffti-ridden alleyway and an empty shop that looks as though it was once a wholesaler of clothes, like others along the street, where there are plenty of signs of shops closing down and being remodelled (shades of Aldgate and Commercial Road in  London).

Once inside the building, through a second security-coded grill, everything has been recently spruced up, original stone walls and beams exposed, and the stairs redone in a mix of uneven old and new timber with new, but seemingly traditional tiling.

On the outside, to cross the road down to the metro station might almost be to pass through Africa, with parades of hairdressers, wig and hairpiece shops, and beauty parlours catering for a primarily African clientèle. In last weekend's baking weather, social life was conducted on the street, with enterprising vendors bringing out dustbins full of ice to sell drinks (but after overnight thunder and rain, all that was left was this abandoned hat).

On the opposite corner is the traditional corner café/bistro, but such are the layers of history here that, passing by, one's eye is caught by a memorial plaque above the tables and chairs, asking us not to forget two young Red Cross volunteers shot on this spot while attempting to rescue wounded Resistance fighters in the rising of August 1944.

Returning to the gloomy alleyway, it's only a few steps before the graffiti turns rather more arty, and beside it is a discreet sign for some small start-up company, with a rather more upmarket dress shop opposite. Carry on through into the sunlight, and there's the kind of street scene that fits most tourists' mental picture of Paris:

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