Toni Morrison's tribute to 'smart,' 'arrogant' Paris

Nobel-winning US novelist Toni Morrison told Thursday of her love affair with Paris - its cafes, its feisty "arrogance" and its role in fostering a generation of post-colonial French-African thinkers.

The author of "Beloved" was awarded Thursday a city of Paris medal honouring thinkers and artists with strong ties to the capital - a day after receiving France's highest decoration, the Legion of Honour.

The writer, whose poetic novels on slavery and the African-American experience earned her the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, in 1988 and 1993, told AFP afterwards of "the comfort I've always felt in this extraordinary city."

"You can see the sky for one thing - not like New York," she said.

"I like the arrogance of Paris, how it loves itself," said Morrison, who once spent a summer teaching in the French capital and came close to buying a small apartment here a decade ago.

"Paris has created for itself a haven for the fastidious and ferocious and the smart - but especially the healthy," quipped the author - who has just undergone a hip replacement operation.

"I like its contempt for the lame and the halt: stairs, stairs, thousands of stairs! No wheelchair access anywhere!"

On a more serious note, Morrison said she felt a link to Paris because of its role in hosting a generation of post-colonial black writers.

As a young woman, her introduction to non-American authors came from reading the likes of Senegal's poet-president Leopold Sedar Senghor, or Aime Cesaire, poet and pioneer of the black pride movement in Martinique.

"There was this intellectual life that Franco-African scholars were involved in - all these people, Africans who lived in France, who were born in France or went back and forth.

"That lodged in my mind. That's the intellectual welcome that I felt."

On Friday she will unveil a memorial bench marking the abolition of slavery in Paris - the first to be inaugurated outside the United States by the Toni Morrison Society.

"I really like the concept of the bench by the roadside. It's the intimacy, the unpretentiousness that I particularly enjoy."

"It's not something you gaze at. It's a place where you can actually sit down and eat lunch, and talk to somebody - or not.

"If you notice it, that's fine. If you don't that's OK too. When the ceremony is over there's just this unpretentious place where a mother can sit down with her baby."

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