Invisible Civilisation - Chapter 2


There’s a man that lives near the Pantheon. You might see him near the fountain on Rue Mouffetard or at the Postal bank on the Rue d’Ulm. He used to sleep at the entrance of a building next to a bar called Le Pantalon. But the inhabitants of the building built a small garden on the stairs so that he couldn’t sleep there anymore. I remember him painting hebrew words on the wall. I saw him shouting at a teller at the Postal bank once. Not in an angry way though. Rather like a man holding his anger, like a kid would hold his tears. I called him Milito because the words he put on the wall once had something belligerent about them and once I hear him say the word Mossad.

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I used to smile at him and say hi and slowly our relationship evolved to some awkward looks as I stopped living permanently in Paris and din’t see him on a regular basis. Milito stopped smiling a long while ago as well. Back in the time where he used to paint walls and pee in the street, I’d often see him smile. Now he stopped. He wears glasses sometimes and hangs around with some other long-time hobos. One of them has dread locks. But contrary to the latter, you won’t find Milito each time you walk in the streets near the Pantheon. He’s a hard catch. Maybe he found a new place. Maybe he has a place. Maybe he lives in an apartment but just likes to hang out in the streets like some people hang our in bars.

At first sight, there’s something deeply about the lives of long time hobos. I remember the black smiling woman in the sun and the drunk smiling man hand laid on her back smiling near Bastille. I remember thinking the two had no plans for the day. I wondered if they stressed. Ever. I wondered if they had obligations. I wondered if their smile was that of the urban pilgrims. The ones who’ve crossed the world on foot to now sit down as they’ve understood the lessons of life. There is nothing but this sun. Nothing but this hand. Only this moment. And I walk away from Milito, the dread lock man, the black woman and her friend with his hand on her back, thinking : Maybe. Maybe the streets and the city gave them the peace they took away from us. Just a smile and the distant threat of sadness.


There’s a feeling first world citizens will never know. And it’s better in a way. To feel you have the exclusivity on an emotion. Only you can describe. Second-world citizens are the people who come from non-western yet non-third world countries. These are countries with democratic systems, the Internet, theatre, museums yet no solid infrastructure. Electricity might default one day. Health care coverage isn’t where it should be. Yade Yade Yade. Lebanon, as it happens, qualifies quite well.

And the exclusive feeling I mentioned is the one that occurs near borders. It’s amazing. You might have a visa for a given country, your passport in check, your papers all clean and tidy. Yet you’ll still feel like you’re smuggling cocaine. It's a thrill. You’re waiting in line and of all the dodgy-looking people, deep inside you feel like the only fraud. If you take a step back, obviously you’re fine and well. Border control wot say a single word. But the mounting noise of your mind simulating a run or a sprint towards some safe haven, away from your trackers, cannot be stopped. The weight of the controller’s stare is such that you feel your soul being scanned. It’s as if every single questionable document you’ve slipped in your paper applications is now displayed on his monitor. Lord.

You get a question or two. You answer with a relative confidence. But you’re overanalysing to such an extent that you’re already handing yourself in when all the police woman’s inquiring about is the purpose of your trip. Lord.

The second you cross that control, you feel you've out-canned the entire world. The system. You found to weak link. You've out-smarted them all. And it probably stems from that rejection from a country is the ultimate fear. It means your projects are sinking, your life on hold and all because ... you were born in the wrong part of the world. Put aside the feeling of unfairness. It’s rather the fact you adapt, familiarise and eventually adopt that feeling and status. One that entails a different form of identity. A different species. The one that breaks through and slips on.

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The Great Gatsby and Stefan Zweig's professor from "the confusion of feelings” have something in common. They both held inside an ever-growing emotion and let it burst one day. There’s greatness to this Atlasssian task. You’re carrying the weight of world in silence. For both however, the stand had to lead to a step. These two Atlas were not going to stand eternally. Professor X made his move and so did the Great Gatsby. And what’s similar in their respective steps is that they’re inherently strange. Be it X who kisses his apprentice or GG who declares his love, as mundane as these initiatives would’ve been in any other situation, the strangeness is infatuated by the very secrecy that surrounded them a moment ago. The falling veil falls so suddenly, the evaporating mystery reverse-sublimates (goes from solid to gas) so rapidly that both events feel like aberrations of reality. The murky, sticky strangeness comes out of its chrysalid like an alien butterfly.

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What's life like for a hype man ? That’s the guy you hear making noises on stage next to the main rapper. That is the eternal side kick. Obviously there’s a kind of recognition in that you’re assisting a great artist. But you’re not making art. You’re merely decorating it. And I wonder. What grows in the heart of the hype man. What is it he feels when he gets off the stage. What butterfly is itching to escape ? Every shout, every scream, every time he echoes the main rapper's lyrics, where's his soul ? Where's his mind ? What are his eyes looking at ? Is he staring at the stares that are following the eyes of the main man ? What's life like for a hype man ?