Paris at war – City Column
Paris at war?
The provocation began at a stoplight somewhere near the Boulevard Barbès, not far from the Gare du Nord. He walked past, narrowly missing my front wheel, turning now and then to shoot menacing looks in my direction. A hundred metres further along he finished the job: as I was struggling with the lock on my borrowed bicycle, the boy approached me and spat contemptuously on the ground right next to my shoes.
Mama Afrique, Petit Congo, shops selling spécialités africaines, shops specializing in noir skincare products, and lots and lots of hairdressers, including Obama Coiffure, which has a huge, if not very accurate, drawing of the president from Kenya in its window. The streets are crowded with women talking animatedly to one another or chattering into their telephones; men offer goods which may or may not be stolen, including a car radio and a bicycle that a toothless West African wants me buy for 5 euros. Everyone in this neighbourhood is black except for the police. Their vans are parked on various street corners, brazenly pulled up onto the pavement, and every now and then the cops jump out and patrol the area, always three at a time, big, heavily armed, and very white.
If you ask me, Paris is at war. A silent war without weapons, or at least not many weapons. Foreign troops from the suburbs, the banlieus, are besieging the city. They are on the move, and have already breached the outer walls of the city, the periferique, or ring road, and are advancing towards the centre. The city centre, where the tourists come to see the art, the rich to buy art, and where on Sunday afternoon games of jeu de boules are played at Place des Invalides, and a cup of coffee costs 8 euros. Boulevard Barbès is a stone’s throw away from the Place de la Bastille, the starting point of a revolution that cost the French king his head.
I bicycle through the neighbourhood, slowly because most people refuse to step aside, in spite of the massive cyclist stencilled onto the bike lane. Just ahead of me I see three cops climb out of their van and start their rounds. Two teenage boys watch the trio disdainfully, and as soon as they have turned their backs, spit on the ground.