I have visited Paris many times and have always loved that city, warts and all. I proposed to my future wife there earlier this year. I have noticed, however, over the years of my going there that the place does not have that relaxed atmosphere that I recall when I first went there in my early teens. I could not always put my finger on it.
Well, people are definitely noticing that Paris is not “all right” now. U.S. blogger Roger L. Simon (who writes excellent crime fiction) has some thoughts about the wave of riots breaking out in the outer suburbs of the city. There is also plenty of food for thought via the wonderfully entitled Merde in France blog for some observations close to what is going on.
(UPDATE: link to this instead of the Merde in France site. The url has changed, as spotted by a commenter. Thanks. Mea culpa).
I watched the British Channel 4 news programme tonight, which devoted about five minutes to the mayhem, now in its seventh consecutive night. The report stated that at least 177 vehicles have been damaged, in some cases set on fire. Security services have been fired upon with guns. A primary school has been burned to the ground. This is the sort of thing one expects to read about in Iraq, or, perhaps the Watts area of LA back in the late 1960s. The Channel 4 programme skated over the possible reasons for the mayhem, also ignoring a number of salient facts about life in the area, such as the massive concentration of immigrants of mostly north African descent, the huge drug trade, the lack of assimilation into broader French society and the chronic and relentlessly high levels of youth unemployment.
This vast housing estates are totally in contrast with the elegant, touristy bits of Paris that you see in the travel brochures. I was chatting with fellow contributor Michael Jennings about this over lunch today and he actually makes a point of going to the less salubrious bits of cities like Paris to see what life is really like. I have often noticed, either during car journeys or while taking the Eurostar train, just how grimy and cheerless the environ developments are. These are not places a sane person should spend a lot of time in, given the choice.
Theodore Dalrymple wrote a fine piece about the outskirts of Paris a while back here. Definitely worth checking out.
I heartily hope that order can be restored before that great city starts resembling one of the more violent parts of a Victor Hugo novel.