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Graphic Literature

Paradise . . . Kind of

By Troub’s
Translated from French by Edward Gauvin
I made my first real trip to the city one afternoon on my way home from work . I brought my little bag with everything I need to draw in it , and headed back up the main road that runs past the hotel . Of course , there was no way I could pass by unseen . There were lots of people , cars , and mopeds , and vendors along the sidewalks . I reached a large mosque and turned off for the nearby shore .
One of the hills overlooking the estuary , covered with houses and tiny alleys .
There hadn't been a beach to speak of for a long time ; it was hidden by a heap of houses on stilts , thousands of stilts all mixed up and stuck in mucky gray sand . It was a beautiful mess . I entered the labyrinth of plank shacks , where smiling kids were line fishing amidst the trash .... I stopped at a wharf where run - down little boats were waiting for the tide . I started drawing , and people gathered around me . The atmosphere was nice and relaxed right from the start . A respectful little crowd formed . They asked if I was American , if I ' was Christian ; children were pushed forward for a better view . They watched my brushstrokes attentively , commenting among themselves , touching the paper to see , and clucking admiringly . The men had golden rings set with big round pale stones , maybe marriage rings . The day began to wane , and everyone went quietly home with a story to tell .
I went for a walk downtown - the poshest and most modern part of Balikpapan . The emblem of this modernity is the Mall , a shopping center that gathers the top stores of western consumerism : chic dresses and perfumes , TVs , cell phones , musical instruments , golf clubs , coffeehouses and pizzerias . Dozens of employees in each boutique cater to rich Indonesians who've come to show off . It's quite pleasant , true - AC on every floor - but I find the artificial atmosphere a bit stifling . I head back out and down the boulevard toward the sea .
Display of wares on the sidewalk , in the shade of houses
The shops get more and more ordinary - looking , and behind a block of houses I find the mall for " ordinary " people : a covered market with everything you'd want to eat or wear .

Little shops stuffed full to overflowing , dark and unsanitary , almost squalid . Displays of chickens dying among one another's droppings .
Sometimes I go walking in the market district , and a few vendors recognize me .

The woman who sells birds and fish asks me to draw her portrait .

It's not easy to make out her face through her veil , but I like being able to look her in . the eye .

The Total corporation—jewel in the crown of the French economy—maintains a presence in many countries across the globe, wherever there are fossil fuels to exploit. To do so, it hires locals, but also French employees with expatriate contracts lasting an average of two years. Two years in westernized surroundings, with housing, a company car, and schooling for their children in comfortable conditions and their own language.

That’s how there came to be a small Gallic village perched on three verdant hills in the town of Balikpapan, Borneo. It was the Total compound, a group of houses and buildings with a school for expat children in the middle. For three weeks, my job was to teach them the basics of drawing and the wondrous alchemy involved in making a comic.

My days were mostly spent in schools. I’d visit classes and give my spiel to kids who were usually thrilled to see me, and who still thought, luckily enough, that drawing was fun.

From Le Paradis . . . en quelque sorte (90 jours à Bornéo). Published 2008 by Futuropolis. Copyright 2008 by Futuropolis. By arrangement with the publisher. Rights arranged through Nicolas Grivel for the Sylvain Coissard Agency, France. Translation copyright 2009 by Edward Gauvin. All rights reserved.

English

The Total corporation—jewel in the crown of the French economy—maintains a presence in many countries across the globe, wherever there are fossil fuels to exploit. To do so, it hires locals, but also French employees with expatriate contracts lasting an average of two years. Two years in westernized surroundings, with housing, a company car, and schooling for their children in comfortable conditions and their own language.

That’s how there came to be a small Gallic village perched on three verdant hills in the town of Balikpapan, Borneo. It was the Total compound, a group of houses and buildings with a school for expat children in the middle. For three weeks, my job was to teach them the basics of drawing and the wondrous alchemy involved in making a comic.

My days were mostly spent in schools. I’d visit classes and give my spiel to kids who were usually thrilled to see me, and who still thought, luckily enough, that drawing was fun.

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