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Dancing while Val d’Oise Burns

Here is the sad irony. Over the past weekend (Nov 24-25 ’07) while in Val d’Oise, families and friends mourned the loss of two teenagers in a motor scooter collision with a police vehicle, in Paris, wealthy debutantes dance at the Hotel Crillon. It wouldn’t have been so blatant except that Le Parisien managed to post both the car-burning repercussions and the video of the debutante ball on the same page this Tuesday morning.

Not that these two disparate worlds haven’t coexisted in France since the beginning of dynasties – the big difference nowadays is that internet throws the two extremes in your face. Le Parisien showed a video of the debs tripping the light fantastic alongside photos of flaming cars in Val d’Oise, a suburb of Paris. The International Herald Tribune reports “Same rage, new tactics” – the ‘tactics’ i.e. hunting rifles and more attacks on police forces are escalating as the promises of employment opportunities and the ‘Marshall Plan’ for the ‘banlieus’ or the low income burbs has not materialized in a big way.

What does this mean for visitors coming to France? Needless to say, unless the disparities between the Paris city limits and its metropolitan suburbs is addressed, crime will increase. Hopefully, Paris’s mayor will realize that it’s in the interest of the city to pitch in and heal the wounds of the satellite cities.

It’s only a matter of time before the concerns of the suburbs become the concerns of Paris.

Meanwhile, some things never change – and even though cars colliding with motorbikes weren’t part of the risks in daily life, many a child was killed or maimed by coaches. Here’s what Arthur Young had to say about Paris in 1787 on the brink of the French Revolution:

“This great city appears to be in many respects the most ineligible and inconvenient for the residence of a person of small fortune of any that I have seen, and vastly inferior to London. The streets are very narrow, and many of them crowded, nine tenths dirty, and all without foot pavements. Walking, which in London is so pleasant and so clean that ladies do it every day, is here a toil and a fatigue to a man, and an impossibility to a well-dressed woman. The coaches are numerous, and, what is much worse, there are an infinity of one-horse cabriolets, which are driven by young men of fashion and their imitators, alike fools, with such rapidity as to be real nuisances, and render the streets exceedingly dangerous, without an incessant caution. I saw a poor child run over and probably killed, and have been myself many times blackened with the mud of the kennels. This beggarly practice, of driving a one-horse booby hutch about the streets of a great capital, flows either from poverty or wretched and despicable economy; nor is it possible to speak of it with too much severity. If young noblemen at London were to drive their chaises in streets without footways, as their brethren do at Paris, they would speedily and justly get very well threshed or rolled in the kennel. This circumstance renders Paris an ineligible residence for persons, particularly families that cannot afford to keep a coach, – a convenience which is as dear as at London. The fiacres – hackney coaches – are much worse than at that city; and chairs there are none, for they would be driven down in the streets. To this circumstance also it is owing that all persons of small or moderate fortune are forced to dress in black, with black stockings.”