June 6, 2012

La Grande Mosquée de Paris

“It is from the quiet and secluded scene of beauty found in the Arabian court-garden that Arabic poetry traces its beginnings.”
Kamel Louafi

La Grand Mosquée de Paris sounds impressive, majestic and most of all ... exotic! I love exotic. I love intruiging ... and to me Africa has always been synonym to all of the above, no matter which part of this vast and diverse continent. Therefore, la Grand Mosquée de Paris was not only on Newsweek's 100 places to visit but also one of my personal favourites.

We took off not expecting much but were transported into another world. Coming around the corner on rue Daubenton la Grande Mosquee lay out infront of us as if it had been beamed straight from Northern Africa and dropped in Paris. This beautiful white marble mosque was built in 1922 to honor the North African countries that had given aid to France during World War I.

We ventured into a little garden with mosaique walls, walked past an enticing showcase of scrumptious looking pastries straight to our destination: the Hammam. We were transported back in time and space.

We advanced through the tranquil arcades and  high ceilings decorated in the style of Moorish Spain. Greeted by a woman mumbling something in Arabic we decided to go for the whole package: Steambath, black-soap scrub and a 20-minute massage with a Mint Tea finale.

The Hammam seemed like a little labyrinth leading to a main hall with seperate compartments where groups of women sat chatting letting the steam and sweat drop off along with all the stress and tension of the outside world. After a short scrub by an Arab lady who didn't speak a word of French I surrendered to the hands of yet another Arab woman who has seen more bodies than she could ever count, estimate or even want to guess. Lying on the massage table, I felt more like a cat sitting on the woman's lap and getting a vigorous stroke. Although her hands were working my body her mind was miles away. She was happily chatting with the first two women in Arabic. Oh, how I wish I could understand what she was saying. I always wanted to learn Arabic. Maybe one day we'll move to Tunis, Dubai or Beirut and I will have a new challenge?!

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