Blood in the Seine

Blood in the Seine

Cristina and I step off the Metro at Chateau Rouge and step into the sunlight and into another world. It’s a Saturday, and Saturday is market day. The streets are filled with vendors in bright African clothes selling mangos and papayas, fish and lamb, African prints and pirate DVDs.

“It’s hard to say this is France,” Cristina says. Papa's Planet

We’re meeting Sophie Nellis, our tour guide into the African side of Paris. Nellis is completed a master’s in Paris studies. Like many Americans and British lured to Paris, Nellis, who is British, was drawn to the Paris of Hemingway and his expat chums. It was the later wave of immigrants, though, that fascinate her now.

“There’s more to Paris than really nice buildings and beautiful food,” Nellis says. “There is a dark side to it we have to recognize. The way Paris is identified as a place, it makes people think it’s perfect. People always think about it being so beautiful, so romantic, so luxurious. It is all these things, but it’s sort of a myth.”

Nellis leads tours about immigration in Paris for a company called Context Travel, which specializes in academic tours it treats more like college seminars than tourist romps. It’s not the most popular Paris tour. Nellis winds us through unfamiliar streets past bland concrete buildings raised in the 1980s, and into a part of France most don’t like to discuss. As immigration has grown in France, so has anti-immigrant sentiment, although that’s nothing new.

In the 1970s, most immigrants in France were Europeans. In the Eighties and Nineties, African immigration picked up. By 2006,  about 8 percent of the population was comprised of immigrants, many of them African, many of them Muslim, doing the dirty work in a country with shrinking population.

Suddenly immigration became a question of national identity. Can you be black, or Arab, or Muslim, and still be French? Read more.