Since the disastrous Pompidou years, working-class Paris has been steadily nibbled away, either by destruction or more insidiously by a kind of internal colonization. Take for example a small outlying district populated by Arabs, blacks and poor whites twenty years ago, the L’Olive neighbourhood north of La Chapelle The area is noted as pleasant, people frequent it and explore it, and as the rents are low some settle there. Others follow, first friends and then anyone else. Rents go up, buildings are renovated, bars open, then an organic food shop, a vegan restaurant...The earlier indigenous inhabitants are driven out by the rising rents and settle further away, in Saint-Denis if they are lucky, or else in Garges-lès-Gonesse, Goussainville or God knows where.
But new neighbourhoods are emerging, for example the Chinese quarter of Bas Belleville, which has grown since the 1970s to the point that in some streets, such as Rue Civiale or Rue Rampal, the restaurants and shops are all Chinese, with many Chinese sex workers on Boulevard de la Villette. These Chinese almost all come from Wenzhou, a large province south of Shanghai, whose inhabitants are reputedly known for their commercial skills.
Paris is constantly changing as a living organism, both for better and for worse. This book is an incitement to open our eyes and lend an ear to the tumult of this incomparable capital, from the Périphérique to Place Vendôme, its markets of Aligre and Belleville, its cafés and tabacs, its history from Balzac to Sartre. In some thirty succinct vignettes, from bookshops to beggars, Art Nouveau to street sounds, Parisian writers to urban warts, Jacobins to Surrealism, Hazan offers a host of invaluable aperçus, illuminated by a matchless knowledge of his native city.