Saint-Denis

As a resident of Place de Clichy, my neighborhood and street become the stomping grounds of the Banlieu at night.  Often when I come home from ExpatLit I have to ask a group of men to move away from my door so I can enter. Every time I run into this situation, I find myself feeling nervous about how they will react. In turn, I am complicit in marginalizing this group further contributing the pervasive French issue. However, the reaction of the men is always kind, courteous, and respectful. Where is the banlieu? What constitutes its starting point? In my eyes, it was a world away… maybe even a 40-minute metro ride from my house. The mystique only contributed to my own stigmatized thoughts of it.

One day, I decided to head to Eglise Saint Denis with my friend for a visit not knowing where it was precisely located. After our class, we hopped on the RER and headed off. Fifteen minutes later I stepped off the train; it was like stepping out into another world. A world I had been slightly exposed to because I’ve been residing in Clichy, but a world that was distinct from Paris. Soon we were strolling down the main strip of activity where tacky goods and people of all ages were congregating and looking each other up and down. Ultimately, after passing numerous fried chicken and kabab joints, we arrived at Saint Denis. An amazing cathedral housing the royalty of France surrounded by the “degenerate hooligans” of modern Paris’ banlieu. A bizarre strain is noticed. The church is left standing, relatively untouched and unfrequented while the surrounding plaza is turf for prostitutes and street gambling.  Beyond the illegalities, there was a distinct culture from inner Paris with a strong feeling of community. Everyone seemed to know one another and everyone was chatting all created in the shadows of the forgotten church. Regardless, it was a unique experience to see the cathedral but also to experience the 93 in some small capacity opened my eyes to the dramatic difference in the way the two worlds operate. You can feel and see it.

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