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Saint-Denis and Port Louis: An Ecology of Hy bridities Françoise Verges REMEMBERING THE CITjES WE HAVE KNOWN is not unlike remembering people. Screen memories, memories of passion and sadness , indifference and nostalgia ... the relation to cities produces analogous feelings to the relation to persons. Though the analogy cannot be pushed too far, we acknowledge that a city can become a part of our life, a part of our selves. It becomes a source of emotions. When we retum to a city we love, we experience contentment, pleasure, relief, and gratification. We are confirmed in our love for the city. On the other hand, when we are in a city we do not love, we experience annoyance, initation, and displeasure. Cities provide a sense of security as much as a sense of alienation and anxiety . There are those to which we long to retum and those in which we never want to set foot again. There are cities in which we love to feel lost because the sense of loss produces a sense of belonging. We are lost but not anxious, the city "holds" us, discreetly carries us through the streets and parks. There are cities in which we hate to feel lost, in which we want to know exactly how to get from here to there. There are cities in which we never want to stay; we wish only to glimpse some images from a car, a bus, a plane, fleeting images. Cities offer an ecology of hybridities, layers of mixed networks in which people circulate, exchange, trade. To that extent, they constitute a refuge against the pastoral of harmonious communities, the idealization of small communities, the fear of agonistic conflict, of being forced to engage with strangers, of being ignored. The noise, the crowds, the lights, the bareness of the streets, the disharmony, the shops, the cafés, converge to produce a cartography of smells, images, and shapes. Among the cities we have known are cities we did not choose: the cities of our childhood. I have two such cities: Saint-Denis (L'île de la Réunion) and Port Louis (Mauritius). Saint-Denis is the city in which I grew up, Port Louis is a city I visited regularly. Both were built as the capitals of the French colonies in the southwest Indian Ocean, but Mauritius became a British colony in 1815. Their wealth came from spices, coffee and sugar, cultivated by slaves bought in the ports of East Africa, Madagascar and India. After the end of slavery , indentured workers were recmited in India, Malaysia, China, Madagascar and Africa. In Mauritius, the Indian diaspora soon outnumbered the other diasVol . XLI, No. 3 191 L'Esprit Créateur poric communities. Réunion became a French department in 1946, Mauritius became independent in 1968. Both societies have gone through the matrix of métissage and creolization; they are pluri-religious, pluri-cultural and pluri-lingual though Creole language and culture play a specific role. It is clear that I cannot do justice to the complex history of the cities through this extremely rapid overview. I only wish to indicate the breadth and depth of exchanges and flux in these cities. Saint-Denis and Port Louis are on the Indian Ocean's shores. Port Louis has remained a port, while Saint-Denis ceased to be one more than a century ago. Yet, though its inhabitants turned their back to it, the ocean is much more present in Saint-Denis than in Port Louis. Both cities are part of the "Francophone" world, the world built by the French colonial empire. They are not "francophone" cities but Creole cities of the Indian Ocean world, a world in which Africa, South and East Asia, the Islamic civilization, and Europe met. They belong to a world of creolization and métissage, to an African-Asian matrix of flows and exchanges. Discovering Port Louis—Saint-Denis and Port Louis participated in the construction of my subjective, cultural and intellectual world. Saint-Denis was the site of anti-colonial politics, a place where I learned about racism, political repression, and the politics of international solidarity. Port Louis was the site of cultural expressions. There I...


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pp. 191-196
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