The last nine years I lived in France, I made my home at the Palacio d’Abraxas (see photo above) in Noisy-le-Grand. The Palacio is an income based public housing complex owned by a private company, in which there are renters and owners. Each apartment has a different floor plan, and some are on a single level, while others are duplexes or even triplexes. Located in a working class suburb of Paris, the Palacio butts up against a sprawling shopping mall, Les Arcades, and is not far from Marne-la-Vallee, more commonly known as Euro Disneyland. The Palacio, designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofil, is a somewhat celebrated post-modern Gotham City-like creation, and it featured in the cult film Brazil, directed by Terry Gilliam in 1985, shortly after the complex was completed.
Normally in France, to get an “HLM” or moderately priced housing, you must wait an average of ten years, after signing up at the appropriate governmental agency. I was able to live at the Palacio, by the walls scaled by Robert de Niro in Brazil, because I took evening Spanish classes sponsored by the city of Paris. My class was located in an elementary school near the Place de la Bastille, closer to the Marais. I remember it was off of the rue St. Paul. My Spanish teacher was from Columbia, and we became friends outside of class. He was interested in philosophy and writing, and so we decided to form a creative writing group with another friend of his. This literary companion was by day a tax agent for the French equivalent of our internal revenue service in the U.S. Son of a provincial police chief, he had gotten his act together after a youthful career as a wannabe burglar while in college studying literature. Tall and hulking, Alain contrasted with short, slightly rotund and happy-go-lucky Cesar. We met and talked about the short stories we would write.
As I was finishing up school at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1994, after sharing housing in a beautiful apartment in the 8th arrondissement owned by the school with a rotation of five students of various nationalities, I needed to find a place to live. I wanted space to paint, so I figured I would have to move out to the suburbs. Alain was friends with the manager of the Palacio, and so our applications were “pistonne” as they say in France – which means they were pushed through. I guess I should not admit that, but it worked! I moved to the Palacio in September of 1994, sharing an apartment on the 16th floor of building 1, with my friend, photographer and filmmaker, Sonia.
Living at the Palacio could be as surreal as the building itself. And I had to adjust to living in the suburbs. The last RER A trains would leave the terminus at midnight, so it was possible to catch a train leaving downtown Paris around 12:30. I was visiting my friend Adrienne, who lived near Pere Lachaise cemetery one evening, shortly after moving to my new apartment. It was getting late, and she offered that I stay overnight to avoid my taking the train so late. I struggled within myself, a strong intuition telling me that “something” was going to happen if I left Adrienne’s apartment and took that train. I can’t really explain the feeling, but it was dense and palpable. I think I will call it “knowing”. In spite of my physical body proclaiming this knowing, my organized in-control self did not want to sleep at someone else’s apartment and go to work the next day wearing the same clothes.
So I put my intuition in my book bag, and walked down to the metro station, transferring at Nation to take my RER A home to Noisy-le-Grand Mont d’Est. When I made my decision to go home, I did not yet know that the Noisy-le-Grand station had several exits, and that at night, the lower level of the Arcades shopping center was closed. I did not yet know that it was possible to take the escalators up to the second level, cross through the deserted shopping mall and exit to the parking lot, which also needed to be crossed to reach the Palacio. The other options were to go through an underground bus station, or though a long tunnel lined with mural paintings of an animal paradise with a floor like rolling hills, capped at either end by a pair of glass doors, to an underground parking lot.
When I exited the station, slipping my coupon orange through the turnstile, I paused, then headed to the tunnel facing the turnstiles. I opened the glass doors, queasy with unease, and began walking the waves toward the second pair of doors. Shortly after I opened that first set of doors, I heard them clap shut again, echoing through the tunnel came the quickly approaching sound of running footsteps. Not wanting to panic, I quickened my pace, exiting the second pair of doors. I began to walk down the three or four steps into the underground parking area. The floor was painted orange.
I remember two arms reaching around me from behind, grabbing my torso and pulling me to the concrete floor. Suddenly, a tall young man of African origin was sitting on top of me. I was lying on my back. I surveyed my surroundings, wondering if anyone in the surveillance booth was viewing the video from cameras in the tunnel. My purse was flung to the ground, within reach. I pulled off my glasses, putting them out of harm’s way. I remember being very calm, very observant, very aware of my thoughts and of the experience. The boy was tall, but appeared very young, with no facial hair. I thought – he could not be more than fifteen or so years old. He told me that he had a knife, but did not say what he wanted from me. In fact, it quickly became apparent to me that he did not know what he wanted. He tried to undress me, but I squirmed and turned over so that my chest was facing the floor. The only article of clothing that remains in my memory that I was wearing was a light blue cotton bra with white lace trim. I remember thinking at some point: “This is like a movie, and I don’t know how it is going to end.”
Suddenly, my instinctive self took over, and I reached into my purse, grabbed my wallet, and emptied it out onto the ground. There was about the equivalent of ten dollars in French francs (pre-Euro days) in my change purse. As the bills and coins scattered on the floor, an opportunity I created opened up, allowing the young man to scoop up some of the money and run away as fast as he could go. He was wearing white sneakers and a nylon tracksuit – parachute cloth. That rustling sound was engraved into my nervous system, and for over a year afterwards, I was made jittery by legs wrapped in nylon.
Shaken, I gathered up my belongings and put myself back together. I walked over to the security booth one level up, knocking on the door of the glass aquarium-like room. I told the attendant what happened. Apparently, he was not really supervising the video monitors, and was not very supportive. I asked if he could call someone to walk me back to my apartment, as I was still shaken. A man in a blue uniform with a doberman materialized and walked me to the elevator bay of the Palacio’s building 1.
In the aftermath of the event, I came to realize several facts about myself and about my encounter with this young man. The premonition, and the nature of the attack itself, as I relived the details, made it clear to me that my higher self had called him telepathically to me. This was why, I explained to myself, he did not know what he wanted from me, and why he was eager to seize the outlet I gave to him to leave the situation. Although his face was so close to mine that I could see every fine pore and eyelash in my near-sighted glasses naked state, when I went to the police to report the mugging, I could not verify his identity on the hundreds of pictures they showed me. The small ID photos could not be matched in my memory to the larger than life close-up that I experienced that night. Since in my heart and conscience I could not find in myself the ability to match the memory to the pictures, I let the legal side of the matter lapse. The meaning in the encounter was elsewhere.
When I was younger, I did not know how to cherish myself and my life. In consequence, I often felt depressed and uncertain of the meaning of my existence. As I reflected on my calm ability to take care of myself and essentially save my own life and protect myself, I also came to realize that my life was precious to me – and that my instincts had taken over to show me my own value to myself. Beforehand, I never valued myself or my own life. This is why I whole-heartedly believe that it is my higher self or spiritual guides who moved me to call this young man into my life. I needed him to show me that I loved myself enough to save my own life.
At that time, I had no knowledge or awareness of spirit guides. I had an interest in the spiritual, but it was just nascent – and not developed. In any case, this encounter changed my life in a profound way. It was a turning point, and a gift. A new door opened in myself, allowing me to finally begin to understand that other people, their opinions, their approval, their being itself, were not more important in the world than my own life, being, and self.
This fact may seem obvious, but it was not to me – not until my higher self called me on it, and used the creative power of life to prove it to me. I needed to be shaken, and this shaking loosened the truth in me, giving me a new freedom to begin to enjoy my life, to enjoy being me.