The Gourmet Student’s Guide to Paris: A Weekend

 If you’re anything like me, visiting a foreign city is an excuse to gorge yourself on all the local favourites, in the name of ‘experiencing culture’. Sadly, when you’re travelling alone or on a budget, and in a limited time frame, it can be hard to find an obliging grandmother to cook you all the traditional meals you read about, and with the added barriers of language and not knowing the area, it’s hard to figure out how to sample local delicacies without paying too much or ending up in total tourist traps. Fortunately, I’ve spent enough time living in Paris whilst being simultaneously very poor and very interested in eating well to give you the low-down on what those Parisians are really eating, and how much you should be paying for it. Even if you’ve only got one weekend, you should be able to try most of these French favourites, without wincing too much at the state of your wallet afterwards.

Viennoiseries

Being perhaps what France is best known for, it only makes sense to start off a trip in Paris with viennoiseries – what you’d probably call pastries. The traditional croissant is a firm favourite, frequently eaten with nothing by way of accompaniment except perhaps some steaming espresso coffee. But if you’re seeking something a little sweeter, branch out and try a pain au chocolat (aka a chocolate croissant for us Anglospeakers), croissant aux amandes (a croissant filled with a sweet pastry cream made with almond meal and covered by finely sliced almonds), chausson aux pommes (rather like an apple turnover), or, if you’re game, a pain Suisse, which combines the sweet pastry cream of croissant aux amandes with small chunks of chocolate to give you plenty of sugary energy for your day.

Find these sweet treats and more at a boulangerie – most also sell coffee and hot drinks, and may offer mini-formules that let you buy one viennoiserie and one coffee at a reduced price. Try to avoid chains like Paul’s, La Croissanterie or Pomme de Pain, and if you’re staying outside of the actual city don’t hesitate to stop by the local boulangerie before heading to Paris for the day.

Prices: 90c (for a croissant or pain au chocolat) to 2 euros, 2-3 euros with espresso coffee

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Croissant aux amandeé

Crêpes

Perfect for breakfast, lunch or just a snack, crêpes are a go-to food for many travellers and native Parisians alike. Generally available in a wide range of both sweet and savoury varieties, they’re a cheap and warming way to fill your stomach whilst on the move. For a savoury snack, opt for jambon-fromage (ham and cheese, usually either cheddar or Emmental) or swap out the ham for oeuf (egg), poulet (chicken) or thon (tuna). If you’ve got a sweet tooth, sucre (sugar) and Nutella crepes are probably the most commonly appreciated, but it’s worth trying crème de marron (chestnut cream) or caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel) for a really French taste. Personally, I can never resist a Speculoos crêpe if I see it on the menu!

Crêpe stands abound throughout the city, wherever you might be. They’re also sold in restaurants, but I find it more fun – and cheaper – to watch them make it in front of me at a stand or small specialised shop. Specialised restaurants called crêperies are also plentiful, and offer more choice plus warm interiors. They  often have formules which include one savoury crepe, called a galette, one sweet crepe, and a drink – be sure to try cider, if it’s on the menu, as it’s the most traditional accompaniment.

Prices: from 2 euros (crepe au sucre) to 8 euros (if you’re getting something with lots of fillings), 8 to 15 euros for a formule at a crêperie

Baguette Sandwich

Sometimes the thought of a crepe, dripping with melted cheese or oozing sugary spread, while delicious, sounds altogether a little too rich. Fortunately, if it’s still lunch on the go you’re looking for, Paris has a perfect alternative: the baguette sandwich. Made either on custom-baked rolls nearly a foot long, or simply on a baguette sawn neatly in half, they provide a convenient way to consume some good French bread and can be stowed in a bag to be eaten while queuing for a museum, or in one of the many public parks that throng the city. Fillings range from the simple, with just one star ingredient complimented by beurre (butter), to more complex concoctions. If you’re after something traditional, choose combinations including your favourites from below:

Jambon (ham)

fromage (cheese)

saucisse (salami)

camembert

chèvre (goat’s cheese)

mozzarella

tomates (tomatoes

crudites (fresh salad ingredients, usually lettuce and tomato)

poulet (chicken)

thon (tuna)

saumon (smoked salmon)

These satisfying sandwiches are sold in the same places as viennoiseries, the ubiquitous boulangerie, but in smaller shops are not always displayed, rather made fresh upon request. Look for the word ‘sandwich’ if you can’t see rows of them lined up in the glass window. Formules are frequently available, usually consisting of a sandwich, a drink and a sweet – listed as ‘dessert’, or sometimes ‘patisserie’.

Prices: 3 euros (for single-ingredient) to 6 euros (unless you’ve gone somewhere very fancy), 5 to 11 euros for a formule

 

 

Pastries (Patisseries)

Now, what would Paris be without its famous patisseries? From the Paris-Brest to the macaron, from the sumptuous Royale to the humble éclair…it would almost be a sin to stop in Paris without sampling at least one of these delicate, rich treats. There’s an almost limitless variety to be found, whether glinting with gold-leaf in patisseries on Avenue de l’Opèra, or simply neatly arranged in a back-street local store, but a few crowd-pleasers are almost sure to be among the ranks in every display. The big sister of the éclair is the religieuse (this translates as ‘nun’, being what the little desserts are supposed to resemble), offering the same sweet custard encased by crisp choux pastry. Mille-feuille is a good option for the wary, but not the weak-hearted: layers of thick custard, pastry and sugar make it delicious but nothing that can be described as light. The Paris-Brest was named in honour of the race of the same name, and consists of delicate praline cream with a crunchy pastry exterior. To round off the Paris-centric cakes there’s the Royale (sometimes known as Trianon, being named after the miniature palace at Versailles), perfect for chocolate lovers with its layers of chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache and crisp dacquoise (a meringue-like substance made with almonds) while those preferring the rich flavour of coffee can opt for an opèra, named for the famous Opèra Garnier and involving multiple levels of coffee-soaked sponge cake and chocolate.

Patisseries, confusingly or conveniently enough, are found at patisseries, made by patissiers. Most boulangeries are combined boulangerie-patisseries and as such it’s child’s play to find one, but look out for a salon de thé if you seek the creature comforts of warmth, a table to eat your pastry at and perhaps a pot of tea. It may cost a little more to eat in, but the extra fraction is well worth it on wintry days!

Prices: usually 2.20 euros to 5 euros, though at the big names like Lenôtre or Angelina’s expect something in between 6 and 10 euros. Yes, for one pastry.

 

 

 

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Déjeuner Formule

If you’ve got the time, money and appetite for a full French meal, be sure to take advantage of the numerous formule déjeuner (lunch menus) available. Some, unfortunately, run only on weekdays, but many restaurants still offer them on weekends. Their form can vary slightly: the basic premise is that you pay a lower price for a fixed menu, choosing from combinations of entrée-plat (starter and main), plat-dessert (main and dessert) or all three (for a higher price, of course). Sometimes there are multiple options for each dish, and sometimes you get the plat du jour (meal of the day) with no choice about it. They’re a great way to sample some of the French classics, but if you’ve splashed out on three courses, take your time – the rich food, even when offset by the basket of complimentary bread, calls for tranquil, languid dining habits.

Look out for:

soupe à l’oignon (onion soup served with a crust of bread and melted Gruyere cheese)

escargots à la bourguignon (Burgundy style snails served with garlicky sauce)

salade au chèvre (salad served with goats cheese, generally drizzled with honey)

oeufs à la mayonnaise (devilled eggs)

cuisse de canard or confit de canard (duck thigh cooked in traditional style)

boeuf bourguignon  (traditional beef stew originating from Burgundy, like the snails)

crème brulée (super thick vanilla custard covered by a layer of caramelised sugar)

fromage blanc or fromage à la campagne (soft white cheese the consistency of thick yoghurt, often eaten with sugar or jam on top)

assiette de fromage (cheese plate)

mousse au chocolat (rather easy to guess, but very traditionally French)

Restaurants with formule-déjeuners are found all over Paris, but prices and quality will vary hugely according to your location. For budget travellers, go ahead and try Montmartre or the Latin Quarter for 10 euro menus aimed at tourists, but be aware that your servings will be small and the quality questoinable. Otherwise, venture out to less popular suburbs such as Belleville (19th/20th arrondissement) or anywhere outside the arrondissements of Paris.

Prices: starting at 10 euros for entrée-plat-dessert, but average prices hovering around 15 for two courses.

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Oeufs à la mayonnaise

Planche fromage/charcuterie/mixte

Paris is host to an innumerable quantity of bars, brasseries and other drinking establishments, many of which provide food as well as endless aperol spritzers. When out for a drink, the best choice for something to nibble on alongside your wine is indubitably a planche (board). Generally found in three types – fromage (cheese), charcuterie (cold deli meats) or mixte (both cheese and meat), the servings are usually generous and the bread plentiful.

Consult almost any menu in a bar or brasserie serving meals – they’re often listed under its own heading, A Partager (to share).

Prices: 10 – 20 euros

Chocolat à l’ancienne et glace à l’italienne

Depending on the season, you may well have need to warm yourself up with a good hot drink or find something to refresh you after long treks down cobbled streets. Accordingly, grab yourself a chocolat chaud à l’ancienne (old-fashioned hot chocolate) to discover the real difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate: one’s chocolatey flavoured milk, the other feels like you’re drinking melted chocolate. Sometimes sold by chocolatiers (especially chains like Chocolat de Neuville), but also found in cafes and salons de thé, these can be a dessert all by themselves. Chocolat chaud onctueux is another name for the same thing – but just glance behind the counter: if you can see the whirling vat of warm chocolate, you know you’re in the right place.

Alternatively, if the weather’s warmer, cool down with glace à l’italienne (Italian-style ice cream). Soft serve ice cream is hugely popular in the warmer months, and available in far more flavours than boring old vanilla, such as salted caramel, strawberry and pistachio. Often, the machines will allow you to combine two flavours for a beautiful – and delicious – colour contrast. Seen only once the sun shows its face, the machines pop up in boulangeries and chocolatiers (chocolate makers) or can be found on the street, especially in busy areas.

Prices: for ice creams, 2.50 euros to 6 euros (for larger sizes). For chocolat chaud, 3 euros (takeaway) to 9 euros (check out Angelina’s for their famous African hot chocolate, coming in at a neat 8.20 euros)

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Glace à l’italienne choco-vanille

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Chocolat chaud à l’ancienne chez Angelina’s

A word of advice: if you want to profit from all that Paris has to offer in terms of gastronomic delights, you won’t be leaving the City of Lights feeling the least bit light – but I promise it’s worth it!

St-Germain-des-Prés (6th arrondissement)

This area is known for its connections to art and literature, as well as hosting some impressive architecture like the Palais de Luxembourg. It’s on the more expensive side, and appeals to those interested in culture.

Start at Metro stop St-Germain-des-Prés (line 4), and admire the church immediately beside you, Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It dates from the 6th century, when it was erected by Childebert, the son of the first King of France, Clovis. The tomb of René Descartes, famous mathematician and logician, can be found in its side chapels.

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, pick up a traditional waffle or crêpe at the stand right outside the Metro entrance – it has a long established reputation for delivering cheap, sugary pleasure. If you’re looking for something more lux, head straight down rue Bonaparte towards Ladurée’s, a famous patisserie and tea salon that’s been around since 1861. It’s especially known for its macarons, though the cakes are delicious as well, but prices start at 2.50 for a mini-macaron and around 6 euros for the cheapest cake. That’s at take-away prices, too!

 

 

If money doesn’t concern you too much, and you want to relive the lives of famous authors, look across the street from the church to find the first of the three cafes patronised by long-gone intellectuals. Les Deux Magots is particularly known for playing host to Rimbaud, Picasso and Hemingway, while Café des Flores right next door was the favourite of luminaries such as Apollinaire, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Trotsky. Each café lays claim to particular known names, but in fact the writers and thinkers generally frequented both businesses. They serve traditional French café fare, such as chocolat chaud a l’ancienne, but beware: a simple espresso starts at around 4 to 5 euros. Just across the road, the Lipp brasserie was also part of the handful of establishments beloved by the artists. Founded by an Alsatian couple, it was known for its food from that region – think sauerkraut, remoulade and beer – and now is famous for its excellent mille-feuille.

Moving eastwards along the Boulevard St Germain, you can take a left turn at Rue de l’Echaude to seek out the National Museum of Eugeune Delacroix, the famous painter. While it doesn’t have many of his famous works, it’s interesting to see his studio and house (and free for EU residents under 26), chosen specifically for its proximity to Eglise de Saint-Sulplice, where he painted one of the chapels. That’s worth a visit too, and is a short walk down the same rue Boneparte that leads to Laduree’s, but in the southerly direction.

Keep heading down the Boulevard if your stomach’s rumbling now, and just a few steps down Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie on your left, you can peek at the marvellous creations at Éclair de Genie, which features éclairs with fillings and toppings a little beyond the regular chocolate pastry cream. Le Procope, which holds the title of the oldest restaurant in Paris, is just before it.

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The éclair au caramel, one of the specialities of Eclair du Genie

Alternatively, turn right at rue de l’Odeon and walk towards the imposing Odeon Theatre. Behind it, you’ll find the Palais de Luxembourg and its famous adjoining gardens, which feature large basins used for toy sailing boats in summer and plenty of people, both locals and tourists, whenever the sun is out. The palace was built by the Italian wife of King Henry IV, Marie de Medici, after her husband died and is modelled on a palace from Marie’s native Florence. Now, the building is the seat of the French Senate, and the former orangery has become the Musée de Luxembourg which holds regular art exhibitions. The Boulevard Saint-Michel, so named for the huge decorative fountain found at its northern end, marks the end of 6th arrondissement, and the beginning of the Latin Quarter.

Woman of the Week: Suzanne Valadon (née Marie-Clémentine Valadon)

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Self-portrait (1927)

‘Suzanne’ Valadon (1865-1938) was born as the bastard Marie-Clémentine Valadon, and only acquired the name by which we know her today as an adult, when her work as a live model for the artists of Montmartre earned her the nickname derived from the biblical story, Susanna and the Elders. She graduated from modelling to using models herself as a painter and artist, and became known for the individuality lent to her work by her female perspective, although she is, somewhat sadly, perhaps best remembered as the mother of Impressionist painter Maurice Utrillo.

Though born in Bessines, Suzanne moved to Paris as a small child. She began to work when she was just 11, finding various jobs including waiting tables and factory work, until she ended up performing as an acrobat in a circus around the age of 15. Though she wanted to continue in this line of work, a serious back injury obtained from a fall whilst on the trapeze prevented her from pursuing this passion, and she turned instead to modelling.

Her first known employer was Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, with whom it is generally assumed she had some kind of romantic or sexual relationship. However, she also had a relationship with Miguel Utrillo, beginning in 1881, and it was he who eventually claimed paternity of the illegal child that Suzanne gave birth to in 1883. Maurice Utrillo, as he became known, was raised largely by his grandmother as Suzanne continued to model and started her career as an artist.

Though her career started with Puvis, Suzanne had become a popular model for many other artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir, who is attributed as the inspiration behind her nickname. She cultivated strong relationships with many of them, being romantically involved with Lautrec while becoming firm friends with Edward Degas, one of the most ardent advocates of her work. Through her observation of their techniques while they painted her, and with their instruction and influence, Suzanne became a self-taught artist who specialised in the female nude and frank, candid portraits.

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Danse à Bougival (Pierre-August Renoir, 1883) features Suzanne Valadon as the principal dancer

As models, Suzanne frequently used her own mother and son, depicting domestic scenes with a gratifying sincerity that can be found equally in her female nudes. Criticised by some for her bold style, with her figures being accused of being ‘too masculine’, others consider her startling honest treatment of the female form as the evidence of her talent. Although other female artists, such as Berthe Morisot, also favoured female subjects, Suzanne’s lower-class background gave her the liberty to paint nudes where their bourgeoisie roots held them back. Thus, Suzanne provided some of the first widely known representations of the female form produced from a female perspective.

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Catherine reclining nude on a leopard skin (1923)

In 1894, Suzanne became the first woman to ever exhibit at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, though it was only after her marriage to stockbroker Paul Mousis in 1896 that her new-found financial stability gave her the time to dedicate herself to her art. It was in the early 20th century that her perhaps most famous tableaux, such as Adam and Eve, Casting the net and The joy of life were finished. These large-scale oil paintings became famous for daring to show men as an object of desire for women, and for being the first pieces by a female artist to focus on sexual pleasure in general.

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Casting the net (Le lancement de fillet) – 1914 (Centre Georges Pompidou)

The subject of these paintings was her significantly younger lover, a painter named Andre Utter who was a friend of her artist son’s. She divorced Mousis in 1913 to remarry Utter, and the three artists lived together in Montmartre, where their former atelier now forms part of the Museum of Montmartre, supporting themselves off their work. By the 20s, though, their relationship had declined, and the pair eventually separated unofficially. Suzanne died in 1938, suffering a stroke whilst painting at her easel and dying in hospital shortly after.

Woman of the Week: Marie Laurencin

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Self Portrait (around 1905 – Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris)

Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) was a contemporary of Picasso and Delaunay and friends with both. Despite the significant role she played in the Paris avant-garde movement, her artwork remained largely uninfluenced by the Cubism being developed by her close associates, and is frequently forgotten today.

 

Marie, illegitimately born to Pauline Laurencin, cited her date of birth as 1885, claiming that ‘the age of a natural child is always mysterious – it is found neither in reality nor in dreams, it is not determined by a date.’ Her father, a tax collector who refused to officially recognise his daughter, visited her rarely.

Marie’s career began officially when she went to Sèvres to study porcelain painting at the age of 18. She soon returned to Paris to study at the Académie Humbert, where she turned her focus to oil painting, one of the mediums she would use most often in her recognisable works. It was there, too, that she first met George Braque and Georges Lepape, fellow students who were impressed equally by the fantastic, whimsical canvases she executed with such apparent ease, and her engrossing personality – ‘my name’s Marie Laurencin,’ she told the curious Lepape, ‘but call me Coco.’

At the age of 24, Marie exhibited at the famous Salon des Indépendants for the first time. She met Picasso, who in turn introduced her to Guillaume Apollinaire, and soon became ensconced in the circle of artists and writers that made up the avant-garde movement and particularly the Section d’Or, which focused on Cubism and Orphism. She began a long-term romantic relationship with Apollinaire, being generally recognised as his muse and particularly as the Tristouse Ballerinette from his 1916 work, ‘Le Poète assassiné’.

Marie married a German artist, Otto von Wätjen, in 1913, causing her to flee to exile in Spain when war broke out a year later, as she had lost her French citizenship upon marriage. She remained there until 1919, finding solace and inspiration in the works of Vélasquez and Goya, and beginning friendships with various new artists, including Gleizes, Delaunay and Picabia, the latter two with which she would later exhibit. She divorced her husband in 1921, and would go on to have various affairs, often with well-known figures such as diplomat Philippe Berthelot and lesbian literary expatriate, Natalie Clifford Barney.

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Portrait de Mademoiselle Chanel (1923 – Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris)

 

 

In this period, Marie made a name for herself as a portraitist, with the famous faces gracing her canvases ranging from ladies of nobility to Coco Chanel. In 1923, Serge de Dhiagelev asked her to undertake the décor and costuming for his ballet, ‘Les Biches’. Her work was received successfully, and ballet costuming and décor became a new facet of her creative expression.

Though criticised for her repetitive subjects and relatively unvaried style, Marie’s work remains highly recognisable for those very reasons. She preferred to depict young girls with dreamy, mask-like features, accompanied by various animals, from unicorns to swans to faithful hounds. Both human and beast frequently have a strong sense of unreality, with figures appearing to undergo transfigurative processes within the image. She focused on themes of femininity, relying heavily on pastel shades of blue, pink and grey which she felt helped to express these themes.

Upon her death in 1956, caused by cardiac arrest, Marie was buried in the famous Père Lachaise cemetery according to her wishes: dressed in, with a rose clutched in one hand and the love letters written to her by Guillaume Apollinaire laid across her heart.

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Watercolour for ‘Les Biches’ (1923 – Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris)

 

 

 

On Glimpses of the true Paris

I’m currently living in France, ostensibly to learn the language but largely to ensure that I don’t fall into the habit of becoming too entrenched in my Australian habits and can maintain the illusion of being cultured and worldly. After all, if all Australians thought my accent sounded Australian when I am, after all, Australian, how would I live with myself?

After just 3 months, it’s hard to judge how much I’ve changed. I have learned, for instance, not to question the young man with his two freshly-purchased baguettes strapped perpendicularly to the parcel rack of his bike like some delicious, gluten-heavy stabiliser. In fact; I commiserate with him. Baguettes are delicious but terribly impractical for shoving into your hold-all handbag, and so I always glance at the mothers pushing prams with half a metre of bread sticking out of them with a sense of quiet fellowship.

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This is a thing people actually do. Although not necessarily so stylishly.

But I still can’t help but wonder at the well-dressed woman on a bicycle stopping at the red light with her 3 inch shiny black heels just barely touching the ground. Her attire is perfect corporate-elegance, and I’m sure her makeup is impeccable. The neon yellow high-vis vest is the only thing that looks out of place, but I’m glad to think she’s not sacrificing her safety to the ever-greedy fashion gods.

 

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Every so often, I start to feel the dark tendrils of guilt creeping across my soul as I stroll idly about the city, doing little more productive than Snapchatting museum displays and reading Elizabeth von Arnim books at the train station. A few glimpses of what I would like to assume are the true Parisians, though, have reassured me. My favourite instance might be that of the two men I’d call middle-aged to their face but describe as old to my friends, sitting on a bench outside the Pere Lachaise cemetery and drinking a bottle of red wine from disposable plastic tumblers at 11 in the morning. They helped remind that whenever I’m focusing simply on dissolutely enjoying myself, I am, in fact, getting perfectly into the spirit of Paris.

On Refugees and how we see them

In France, the question of refugees has become truly pressing only in the last years thanks to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ affecting Europe. Their issues are vastly different to our own decades-long struggle in many ways, including the nature of the refugees, the sudden increase and France’s own cultural and socio-political differences, but the situations are alike in the most vital details: each country is currently dealing with large numbers of genuine asylum seekers who we expect our government to aid according to the human rights convention.

Australia’s island state has prevented us from seeing the same sudden arrival of so many asylum-seekers, as the difficulties of the ocean voyage leads to most refugees being detained and sent to off-shore detention centres for processing before they reach the mainland. In comparison, the most popular tourist destination in the entire world – Paris – is also a makeshift home for up to 3000 refugees. There are the lucky ones, in organised camps, but walking through the city still means walking past whole families tucked onto a doorstep with plastic shopping bags spread over their few belongings to keep off the autumn rain. At Saint-Lazare, one of Paris’ largest stations, the repetitive melody of the metro announcements mingles with the haunting tones of the refugees who wait at the top of the escalators, begging for sympathy from the commuters.

Yet the vast majority of commuters treat these refugees as little different than any of the usual beggars, rarely stopping to toss them a few coins. The most common reason stated for not giving money to beggars on the street is that the would-be giver fears their donation will be wasted on alcohol or illicit substances, as they assume these are the reasons for the beggar’s current state. But with refugees, there’s no evidence to suggest they have any issues apart from being cruelly mistreated by chance and other humans’ selfish actions, and as such, no reason to withhold your spare change. Sadly, though, it is human nature that when confronted with mass suffering, aware we cannot give to everyone in need, we tend to give nothing – justifying it by telling ourselves we can’t save them all.

These are heartbreaking scenes, and unlike what we see in Australia, even though the deplorable conditions of our detention camps and the seemingly endless time periods required for processing prompts many Australians to consider the government’s policies an aberration of human rights. Yet there remains one silver lining in this dark cloud, and that is our maintained interest in the welfare of these displaced peoples. Thanks to our outrage at our government’s policies, there are constant lobbies and protests, and the media continues to report on the conditions. We stay invested in these people kept out of sight on far-away islands in a way that would likely not occur if the same people were lining our city streets with their handwritten cardboard signs.

Gerda Lerner, famous feminist scholar, once noted that it took ‘long periods of organised effort to accomplish any advance in social policy’, and her point is, sadly, very apt. Change of any kind comes gradually, and only when we refuse to give up – and our outrage at human rights violations is exactly what fuels such determination. As much as our government policies may displease us, we can be glad that they have kept us angry, and in doing so, kept us resolved to change the current state of affairs instead of turning away for fear that because we can only make a small difference, it is not worth trying to make a difference at all.