Roger L. Simon

Paris Sadness - Another Email

As the unrest continues to escalate (not too rapidly, thankfully) in France – 349 arrested last night, some 1300 cars torched – I received another email from Paul Cruce, the American cooking student in Paris. Let me make clear what should be obvious: I do not know Paul and cannot vouch for anything he says. In fact, my own rather extensive experience with Paris and the French does not always jibe with his (his previous email more than this one). But still I thought this report worth quoting in its entirety —

Bonjour, Roger –

Your post about the rioting in the 3ème tells me you know Paris well.

Indeed, the 3ème is not slums. As you probably know, along with the 4ème, and together they make up le Marais, the swamp, which the land underneath once was. There are many lovely old homes built in the 17th and 18th centuries in the 3ème which once housed Paris’s finest families. For the rioting to break out in the 3ème shows me that the government has yet to get a grip on the seriousness of this.

I was going to stick it out over here. The Ecole Boulangerie et Patisserie de Paris had a concern that my French isn’t good enough to keep up with the pace of the class, and I would have been the only English-speaker in the group. To a degree they are right. I’ve still got a long way to go before mastering the language. But they also discount just how much I really comprehend and how determined I am. What frustrates me is that I comprehend most of what I hear, but I’m not quick on the response. My brain isn’t yet thinking fully in French. But I know that and that’s one reason I came over in September – so that by January, I would have been using the language on a daily basis for several months. And, learning to become un boulanger is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve loved to cook and bake all my life, but especially bake.

About three years ago the idea formed in my head to open une vrais boulangerie francais. I learned to bake the things I want to sell at home. But it is one thing to bake on a home scale and another to do so on a commercial scale. I want to call the bakery “Boulangerie-Saint-Honoré”. Saint-Honoré is the patron saint of bakers.

So I sold my condo. I sold my furniture. I made an arrangement with one of my friends here, a widow of 75, to rent some rooms from her.

But these riots have changed things. I feel as if I’m a target. My friends here feel this way, too, so it’s not my paranoia. Since the rioting started, it seems that the young thugs I see on the R.E.R. and Métro are eyeing me suspiciously. I no longer wear my iPod on the R.E.R., I put it in my bag along with my camera and iBook, but even carrying that is dangerous, so I’m going to quit carrying the bag into Paris at all and go empty handed. I’ve quit going to Forum les Halles and if I need to change trains, I’m doing it at a different station. Saturday when the rioters attacked the 3ème in Paris, that was a little too much. The government is failing to secure the R.E.R. as it should, and that’s my primary means of getting around. (I don’t have a car here.) I’m really concerned about those attacks on the R.E.R. on the north-east because it is such an important link to Charles de Gaulle. As a Conservative, I’m certainly not a “big government” person. But also, I recognize that when the state fails to properly use the way it is organised to the benefit of its citizens, it is very broken. France does not have a Federal system. The levers of power are all in Paris. But ChIRAQ and de Villepin are not using the levers at their command to protect the people.

I am absolutely astounded at the failure of this government to attack the problem of the riots. I don’t see it as being primarily an issue of religion, but a turf war by drug criminals, who happen to be of muslim extraction. But the failure of the government to nip this in the bud has now opened the door for players who do have a religious agenda. Mid-week I was cautiously optimistic about the situation. Now I’m very pessimistic. It’s time to come home and implement “Plan B.”

MEANWHILE: A small bomb factory was discovered in the southern suburbs.

UPDATE: The invaluable No Pasaràn describes the demonization of Nicolas Sarkozy. (via astute blogger)

MORE: Clive Davis, writing from the UK, is concerned the American Blogosphere is going overboard with its premature talk of a French Intifada. He has some interesting links to French blogs as well. And, of course, the Australian blogosphere has their views.