Monday, 2 December 2019

Paris in the wintertime

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“For years, every year during the summer, he would go to Paris. It was automatic with his wife and his family. Hadn’t seen him in a while. And I said, ‘Jim, let me ask you a question: How’s Paris doing?’ ‘Paris? I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris.” — Donald Trump, May 2017
I spent this weekend in Paris to celebrate my birthday with some friends. I hardly know the city and saw the Leonardo exhibition, walked around St Germain in the beautiful, very cold sunshine, ate four wonderful meals in exactly the kind of good, characterful restaurants you imagine, enjoyed the late 19th century Parisian atmosphere and succeeded in navigating the baffling Châtelet–Les Halles overland and underground railway hub to find the train to take me the ten minutes to Saint-Denis. Everything in French stations is endlessly difficult and I think this helps explain why England voted to leave the European Union.

In Saint-Denis stands the basilica where most of the French kings and queens are buried, from King Clovis I (481-511) and the Merovingian rois fainéants to King Louis XVIII, the last French king not to be deposed, who died in 1824.

A necropolis is an odd place to visit on one's birthday, I suppose, a sort of momento mori. 

Remember you must die, as a Roman celebrating a triumph was reminded by a slave sitting beside him. Not that I consider my life so far exactly a triumph. Still, as the Abbé Sièyes said when asked what did during the French Revolution, I have survived.

But countries die, as well as men. 

On the train to Saint-Denis my companion and I were the only white people in our large carriage. When we arrived at the town of Saint-Denis (population officially 110,000 but allegedly much more) the buildings were Gallic but the atmosphere was Third World. 

It reminded me a little of Algiers, a city I love, but Algiers feels very much more French, the inhabitants are white, some men wear berets and veils are illegal.

The first time I heard of St Denis since my childhood was in an article that I recommend by Ben Judah, which contrasts the tomb of Charles Martel, who saved France from Islamic invasion, with the modern Saint-Denis.
Last week one of the cathedral’s priests was savagely beaten here, thugs mistaking a long thin book for an iPad. Then they bolted, leaving him with a bleeding nose on the square. My notebook fills with stories like this: of thieves, hoodlums and pickpockets. This is nothing like poor London. 
The streets of Saint-Denis talk as if the authorities have lost their grip. Jihadists are waging a dirty war on the Republic, recruiting intensively in these banlieues. Since 2012, stabbings, shootings and car rammings have taken place every few months, punctuated by slaughters such as Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan.
It was here after the Bataclan massacre that the police stormed the hideout of the terrorist mastermind, firing 5,000 rounds. Three jihadis were shot dead, minutes from the cathedral. Their stated ambition was to start a civil war.
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The tombs of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, though their remains are elsewhere in the church
Googling, I found this startling piece of information. In the nameless decade before this one, a French blog called Le Salon Beige received an email from a reader who had visited the Basilica of Saint Denis and was surprised by the brochure he picked up there, called "Tour of Discovery for the Young":
First, on page 8, he read: "Dagobert, the first king buried in Saint-Denis. [...] A contemporary of Mohammed, Dagobert was King of the Franks from 629 to 639." 
Then, on page 9, [...] "In the Bible we find the story of the Angel Gabriel, the very one who would bring the Koran to Mohammed, who announces to Mary, a young girl engaged to Joseph, that she will soon give birth to a son named Jesus."
An article that appeared in the Daily Mail last year about Saint-Denis was later taken off the net, after complaints from a French Muslim activist that it was islamophobic. It is polemical and inaccurate, but a very interesting eyewitness account. 

‘Inside the World Express cafe, groups of men argue in Arabic. On side streets, men smoke shisha pipes and talk – again, in Arabic – on every corner. Women shop in veils and scarves, always accompanied by a male relative.


‘As a white European, I attract odd looks. When I take out my mobile phone for a photograph, a young man jumps in front of me, waving his index finger in my face, shouting: ‘La! La! La!’ (No! No! No!)


‘Yet this is not an exotic, far-flung destination. This is France. Moreover, this is Paris and only six miles from the Eiffel Tower.


‘The reason for all this activity – in an area which even the most optimistic estate agent would struggle to sell as ‘cosmopolitan and bohemian’ – is quite simple: immigration on a mammoth scale.


‘The scale of the problem grows each day. An estimated 80 migrants arrive in Paris every 24 hours – 550 a week.


‘Many head for Saint-Denis because of its closeness to transport links, including the railway lines heading towards the north coast, and Britain.’
Somewhere on the net I found an anonymous immigrant writing this:
I arrived in France in 1973, in Toulouse, a year later my parents moved to Saint-Denis. The percentage of non-European immigrants was negligible. I left in 1984. The number of Europeans remaining was negligible. My last address in Paris was in the 14th district. I arrived in 1995 in a majority European neighbourhood. I left in 2016 a majority African neighbourhood. I’ve witnessed twice the disappearance of the native population and the settlement of extra-European immigrants. When you have one population in one place and a few years later that population is gone and a completely different population is in place, it’s called population replacement.

The highlight of my two days was a sung Tridentine Mass at the beautiful, baroque Church of St Nicholas de Chardonnet, which was seized by the followers of Archbishop Lefebre in the 1970s. It is a bastion of Catholicism as it was before the Second Vatican Council, when Catholicism opposed the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the heresy of modernism and the Republic. 

Both the old France of Church and throne, which I love and consider the true France, and the Republic, based on the values of secularism, equality and the rights of man, are being transformed by immigration from the former colonies. Emile Cioran predicted in 1987 that Notre Dame would be a mosque in fifty years Neagu Djuvara and Bernard Lewis, both of whom died last year aged 101, said years ago that it was inevitable that Europe would become Islamic.

On my last weekend in Paris, in the spring of 1989, I was taken to a good party where I met a waif of a redhead, whom I was delighted to find was like me a monarchist.
Are there many monarchists in France?
I asked her. She looked at me in great surprise and made the magnificent reply
Everyone in France is a monarchist.
Evidently I had penetrated an exclusive social sphere.

That girl is now, God willing, in her fifties and perhaps the mistress of a chateau. I wonder whether she thinks Paris is any longer Paris.

I like the Paris that Napoleon III  and Baron Haussmann built, the Paris of the Belle Epoque, the Impressionists, the Metro signs and Proust, but I always greatly regret the old Paris, with its narrow streets in which barricades could easily be erected, that was demolished for political reasons to make way for the city we know. Another Paris will replace the one the tourists love and it will very largely be Muslim.

10 comments:

  1. The LA Progressive, despite its 'progressive' i.e. left-wing politics, takes a poor view of Saint-Denis and tells its readers:

    Where to Stay in Paris?

    There are many districts in the city and each of them is amazing, so it will be much easier to say where we DO NOT recommend staying:

    The 10th arrondissement near East and North bus stations because most of the migrants tend to live there.
    Saint-Denis is not the most prosperous suburb of Paris. There are two places worthy of your attention – the Basilique Saint-Denis and the sports complex Stade de France, but this is not a reason to stay here.
    District 11 and 20 near Belleville and Couronnes metro stations. Belleville is an example of Paris’s internationality: if you go to the left, you will find yourself in Chinatown, in particular, in its variation of the Red Lights District, to the right you will come to the Arabian bazaar.


    https://www.laprogressive.com/

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  2. When I go back I shall make a point of visiting District 11 and 20, Chinatown and the Arab bazaar. They sound fascinating and an enlightening counterpoint to the tourist centre.

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  3. I've been living in France for almost 14 years, I work in a very French environment so I dare to say that I have a relatively good grasp of the French psyche.

    I think "Everyone in France is a monarchist" was meant metaphorically. They say the UK (or maybe the Scandinavian kingdoms, I don't remember) is a republic disguised as a monarchy whereas France is a monarchy disguised as a republic, the President of France being a king disguised as president. The point is that the archtype of French organisations is a deep hierarchy in which each manager treats the people it manages as subjects. We get emails with "informations descendantes" from management, we have "réunions d'information" (information meetings) where we are _informed_, but we have nothing to say. Decisions are taken and then they "descend" to us. Same holds for state administration (everything is decided in Paris, then it "descends" to the prefects of the départements), for hospitals (the doctors do not deign to keep the patients up to date about the progress of the analysis they run on the patient's samples), for the relation professor-student, everywhere. Everyone is a little king, everyone has a little domain where he is sovereign, the waiter in "his" restaurant, the baker in his bakery, the doctor in "his" hospital, the professor in "his" university, the taxi driver in his car, and they like to assert their authority on their domain. Parking places are nominally assigned in front of companies, institutions, hospitals etc according to intransparent rules. The important institutions are all housed in palaces, Palais de l'Elysée for the Presidency, Palais de Luxembourg for the Senate, Palais Bourbon for the Lower House, Hôtel de Matignon for the Prime Minister, the Palais Royal for the State Council.

    But it should not be confounded with loving monarchy, aristocracy, the old nobility. Maybe just because of this ubiquity of hierarchy they all long for a strict equality, jealous eyes scrutinise each privilege, there's nothing they hate more than (another's) privilege, they're very keen on meritocracy. Tell a Frenchman about privilege by birth and you'll witness his ire. They're quite proud of Louis XIV and Versailles, but only because it made France project power and prestige in Europe (they're overly sensitive of prestige on the European or world scene). But they always mention his era with irony and with a certain condescention, as if they speak of unenlightened people, the gospel not having yet reached them. As of the living descendants of the kings, the House of Orléans, they ooze contempt when they speak about them, the media uses a very cold tone, as one would speak about a distant relative with which one is not on speaking terms any more and who stole one's inheritance. Not only towards the French royal house but other royal houses too. While they swarm to watch the wedding of Prince William on TV, they still see it amused as a ridiculous spectacle of a gone era.

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    Replies
    1. Your remarks are interesting but she was not speaking metaphorically but literally and moved in circles where everyone was a literal monarchist.

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    2. There are plenty of them around. They are the elite which was forced out of power in stages to make way for Enarchs etc.

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  4. Google makes the world more depressing than even I think it is - it is the most left biased of all the Search Engines, so my Birthday and Christmas present to you Sir is to advice you to stop using Google. Using Bing or Yahoo will still present you with a left bias - but not so extreme.

    New York is no longer the city that Donald Trump grew up in - and both its civil and criminal courts are absurdly unjust. Recently two "Proud Boys" were attacked by a gang of Marxist thugs - the People's Courts in New York City sent the two attacked men (not their attackers) to prison - the court assumed they were "racists", even though their attackers were white Communists and one of the two men is married to a black lady. Paris is not quite at that stage.

    However, clearly Paris is in terrible trouble - and the President of France is a pretenious idiot. President Trump at least tries to deal with the threats that face the United State - the President of France would (like the Chancellor of Germany) not even allow Freedom of Speech to discuss the threats facing the West.

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    1. Bing is useless but I shall try DuckDuckGo, which does not profile its users, showing all users the same search results for a given search term.

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    2. Thanks for reminding me. The left run everything.

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  5. I trawled through 25 pieces on Google with headlines very hostile to Mr Trump's remark about Paris, many or most questioning the existence of Jim. This tells you something significant about the impartiality of the American press nowadays. It used to be dry, colourless, fact checked and with opinion kept out of news stories.

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  6. Marwan Muhammad, the man who got the Daily Mail article taken down, pointed out that the up to 300,000 illegal immigrants that the article claims live in Saint-Denis are almost three times greater than the whole official population of Saint-Denis. In fact, the author of the article evidently confuses the town of ‘Saint-Denis’ with the much larger department of ‘Seine-Saint-Denis’, which is shoddy journalism. Still, that doesn't affect the value of the article as a piece of reportage.

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