Roger L. Simon

The Last Time I Saw Paris

For me, it was a couple of years ago. My intention was to write a novel, some of which would be set in the city’s notorious suburbs. I never wrote the book, in part because when I got home I realized I quite simply did not know enough. This was not my world. But what I saw in Monfleury and elsewhere was pretty horrible and I am not at all surprised by this.

President Jacques Chirac urged calm and dialogue on Wednesday after a sixth night of unrest in poor Paris suburbs that has triggered a damaging public row between ministers in France’s conservative government.

Street fighting, sparked by the deaths of two teenagers electrocuted while apparently fleeing police during a local disturbance, spread to other parts of the poor suburbs ringing the capital to the north and the east, police said.

The unrest has highlighted increasingly bitter rivalry between Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and his deputy Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, ahead of 2007 presidential elections.

“The law must be firmly applied and in a spirit of dialogue and respect,” government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope quoted Chirac as telling the weekly cabinet meeting.

“The absence of dialogue and escalation of disrespect would lead to a dangerous situation. There cannot be ‘no-go’ areas in the republic,” Cope told reporters.

But there are. When I visited the banlieu a couple of years back, I didn’t see one gendarme. I was told they were frightened to go in there. I can’t blame them. I was too. I have been in Ramallah and the back streets of Cairo and I was more tense in Monfleury.