0424 Back to the Riot Zone (Fra 049—revisit)

Montreuil Travel Blog

 › entry 49 of 201 › view all entries

At first Montreuil looks like your typical, run of the mill suburb.  It’s predominantly an immigrant suburb, but seems peaceful and cheerful with children playing in the park and folks taking it easy in cafes around the town center.  Unfortunately the main plaza is being work on so I can’t take my video clip there.

 

But when I head west back towards Bagnolet, I realize something is going on.  The streets are empty except of for a long line of vans full of cops in riot gear.  Clearly, this isn’t just your ordinary balmy summer afternoon.

 

I continue on past walls of beautiful, but sometimes disturbing graffiti paintings depicting a city in flames…

 

Then, as I cross into Bagnolet again, I hear the sirens… Suddenly an entire convoy of police vans speed past with a couple of reporter in fast pursuit.

  Then the eerie calm returns.  At the bus stops a sign reads that all the buses have been cancelled.

 

I suddenly feel very conspicuous, a lone white guy walking down the deserted streets with a guitar slung over his back.  I quicken my pace and look at my compass trying to figure out which is the way back to the bus station.

Then another police convoy speeds on past… and then another… Something is definitely going on here in Bagnolet. 

Part of me would like to see it… but common sense tells me that that’s a bad thing to wish for… These riots tend to have a racial undertone to them--  And I could easily become a target…

 

Finally I reach downtown Bagnolet where a few shops are still open and thing feel somewhat normal.  I see a couple Moroccan guys sitting in front of a cafĂ© and I go and ask them in Arabic, “What’s up with all the police cars?  Is there something going on?”

 

The guy looks at me as if I’m an idiot, then responds sarcastically, “Yeah… Sarkozy is coming through town…”

 

A few minutes later I understand the reason for his sarcasm: apparently I’m the only guy in all of Bagnolet that doesn’t know about the riots…

 

I stop at a cybercafé and google “Bagnolet riots”… and am a bit shocked at what I find…

 

Apparently it all started when police tried to chase some guys on motorbikes, and the guys ended up dying in an accident… This sparked a wave of violence… a bunch of guys boarded a bus, and lit it on fire, barely giving the passenger time to escape…

Suddenly it all comes together… I just happened to show up here in Bagnolet in the middle of a riot.

  Now, on the second day, it seems that the rioters are playing a game of cat and mouse, deliberately baiting the police and then moving elsewhere…

 

Then suddenly it all sinks in:  Last night, thousands of tourists were casually strolling up and down Champ d’Elysee completely oblivious to the fact that the suburbs of Paris were burning just a short walk away… The contrast of what goes on in Paris and what goes on right outside Paris couldn’t be more acute.  Two completely different worlds.  One world that France wants the world to see, visit, marvel over and take pictures of.  Another world that it doesn’t want the world to see.

 

It’s a very disturbing yet very significant ending to my Paris Suburbs Tour.  I’ve seen the beautiful, the peaceful and the charming faces of this region.  I needed to see the ugly face as well…

 

And now I will ride off into the night on an entirely different sort of adventure…

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Montreuil
photo by: nathanphil