For the past five years I’ve been working as chief accountant for a company called CIDEF (Centre d’Information et de Documentation et de Formation) in the suburb of Montreuil just outside Paris. I like the job. The organization is run by the French Communist Party and trains local councillors about law and other stuff. What I like most is that the staff are all card-carrying Communists – very militant and all passionate about what they are doing. I’m not a Communist and never will be, but it’s great to work in a place where people care about what they do, and you feel sort of connected to the world of politics and social issues. On a daily basis, they’re all usually squabbling with each other about politics, but whenever they come into my office they’re amicable and friendly. They have to be because I handle all the money. It’s a big job. I’m on my own with a government budget of three million to dole out. But they’re all good, decent people anyway. If they weren’t doing this they’d be teachers or nurses and things like that. We have a laugh most days too.
This is all so different from the other jobs I’ve done as an accountant. I came to Paris in 1997 – my girlfriend came here to study and I followed her. I ended up working in La Défense, a horrible district of skyscrapers where all the money is made. I hated all the jobs – it was so corporate and crappy and it made me feel like an insect or a sheep, just doing all of this stuff without any say or control in what I was doing. I love rock and dance music and really wanted to work in the record industry but I was too lazy and stupid to really get involved. My other dream then was to go to Manchester and go to the Hacienda Club which I read about in the French music press – it sounded brilliant. But I never had the money to go. I bought all the records and CDs though and in my office in Montreuil I’ve got a poster of the Hacienda from the old days. I’ve also got a signed poster of the Jesus and Mary Chain – they were a great band.
I loved it straight away when I got to CIDEF – so different from all those corporate places, and everybody arguing about stuff that matters. I also like the area. I live in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, which is a bit posh but not too much. But this place is different from central Paris. It used to be the old working-class who lived here – that’s why it’s always been Communist – but now it’s mainly immigrants from all over the place. You can see the difference when people get on the metro.
I start off on Line Nine, which is quite smart, and then at Richelieu, where I change for Line Eight, everything changes and there are more Africans, Arabs, all different nationalities. Then you know you’re heading to the suburbs. I normally set off about eight in the morning, and get to the office for nine. I listen to music and read things like les Inrockuptibles magazine or books about music and things that I’m interested in like art, but you can’t read anything too complicated, especially when the metro is full and everybody is bad-tempered. Nobody speaks on the metro anyway. I used to go to the office on my scooter but my back hurts when I do that now. I wouldn’t mind cycling on the Vélib’ – the cheap bikes you can hire in Paris – but it’s a bit far and I’m a bit lazy. And anyway, the Vélib’ doesn’t go out to the suburbs, which is something the Paris Town Council has to sort out. And then, you know, I don’t like the rain.
I get home about eight. I used to go out to gigs at least two or three times a week but now I sometimes feel more tired and I like to chill out in my flat and watch DVDs, make something nice to eat. Anyway, the 15th is a bit far from the main clubs and venues. I used to live up near Pigalle, which was great and I’d walk to gigs and that kind of thing, and I liked the bar life, but, you know, everything changes and I like it here too – small shops, nice family restaurants.
I like Montreuil and I’d miss it if I didn’t work there. I wouldn’t mind living there but I don’t want to be too near the office. I’ve seen the area change in the past few years – it’s getting a little bit more fashionable and there are BoBos [bourgeois bohémiens – Parisian yuppies] who are moving in all the time. You notice this in the way that people dress on the street, their accents and the new organic shops – which are expensive and no ordinary person goes to them.
From my window I can see the council estates – the walls are painted pink and they’re a bit drab, but you can also see that people are making an effort to make them nice inside. There are lots of young people – some of them dealing drugs from the park benches in the little bits of green spaces. The police come here a lot and chase them. It’s a bit like watching a film from my window – you get to know the different faces and characters and nothing really changes that much. Sometimes there’s a car chase. There are a lot of poor and desperate people around here.
Every Friday, we all go to a local restaurant as a group from work. If you don’t go it’s considered a bad thing. There are plenty of good simple restaurants around here and you can get a good meal for about ten to fifteen euros. There are lots of ethnic places, and French of course, old-fashioned basic places which I like. The rest of the week I just buy stuff from the supermarket – salads, sandwiches – and eat something in my office. I don’t think I’m rich or poor. I go on holidays and do what I want, but then I don’t like expensive things really.
I don’t worry about the future. This is where I am and I’m going to stay here.
Photograph by jlggb