Saturday 28 May 2011

Some other Neuilly

The inhabitants of Neuilly on the western fringes of Paris are statistically the 5th richest in France, with around 10% of the population also paying an exclusive wealth tax. Needless to say, it is a rather snobbish place, and one with a distinct lack of character. Is there though a more human Neuilly hidden behind the heavily polished exteriors?

Whereas Paris is a city to be discovered on foot, Neuilly is the kingdom of the car. A four-lane artery cuts through the southern side of the town, with the rest being criss-crossed with other wide and busy thoroughfares. More disturbing than that though is the distance between the pavements and the houses and apartment blocks in the town, meaning that as a pedestrian you feel cut off from all human contact.

Walking along these leafy but deathly quiet streets, you can't help feeling a little paranoid. Behind their curtains in their dwellings, residents can follow your steps, but they themselves remain frustratingly invisible to you. It is a place with little interaction and with a heart that is seemingly well hidden away.

Around the town hall though, there is a semblance of a community. Naturally, this is based almost primarily around commercial outlets, but amongst the upmarket designer chainstores (which are often curiously empty) there are a few that show a little more soul. It is a town which caters principally for wealthy lawyers or television executives who spend their income mainly in the numerous smart but slightly banal restaurants, but turn a couple of corners and it is still possible to find a population looking for a bargain.

This is visible mostly in the indoor market, a 1960s vintage with pleasingly chaotic colour clashes and a space where it is still possible to rub shoulders with other inhabitants. Stall holders cry out the offers of the day, and retro haberdashery stands show that there are still residents who choose to repair clothes rather than just buy new ones.

Another curiosity of the town is the silence of the walls. Across Paris, they sing with messages, through posters, art, graffiti or tags, but in Neuilly they are clean and mute. Buildings are flawless and unsullied, showing off little of their lived history, but it is possible to find some forgotten courtyards where life seems to have found shelter.

The scruffiness of these doors and shutters is proof that they have served a purpose. It is comforting to find such things here that have not been torn down and replaced with newer models.

Even more comforting are the traces of cheap and cheerful design. In a universe of classical bourgeois conservatism, how refreshing to see a really bad pun (but one that is also slightly subversive in this Catholic environment) and a selection of kitsch bargains! It might be a descent into hell, but it looks like a place where life may be found.


Thérèse said...

Nice insight, I was less than wealthy when I lived in Neuilly and I was one of the ones looking for bargains... even at the place you are showing at Sablons (good fish there too.)

Suze said...

Some other Neuilly sounds like my kind of place.

Very well-written post, btw.

Anonymous said...

Your contempt is palpable. Is there perhaps another side of Neuilly that the residents value?

Adam said...

Anonymous: You tell me! What seems clear to me is that wealth doesn't create communities, and the very design of the town reflects that. I'm sure it does serve its purpose though, and the majority of the people who live there are probably more than happy with their surroundings.

In general, money buys you a certain distance from your neighbours, but that lack of interaction leads to rather cold and aloof places - which are not particularly welcoming to casual visitors.

PeterParis said...

For sure, it's quite different compared to the 10th arrondissement.... and even the part of the 17th where I live! :-)

melanie.goodfellow said...

Dear Adam,

I love your blog. Your tweet tonight on regifilm was inspired -- I think that's a wonderful hole-in-the-wall, treasure trove of a place too.

BUT your blog on Neuilly misses the point.

Neuilly isn't really my sort of place either but I live there very happily with my kids. I think you probably need a couple of them, an account with bon point and a stroller to appreciate the place.

If you want to see community go stand in front of the town hall after school one day and watch the kids playing -- it's a riot.

If you want to see cool youth go to the Neuilly pool on a sunny afternoon in May or June -- before they all head off to their parents' second homes -- or the Marly at the weekend.

If you want to see neighbourhood life, prop up the zinc at the Winston or head down to the market on a Sunday.

The point about Neuilly is that there's a lot going on and plenty of characterful abodes but it's all behind closed doors and high walls.

Melanie (wife of a "TV exec")

Adam said...

Hi Melanie: I'm perfectly prepared to admit that I've been unfair here. I guess what I was trying to explore is why it looks so different from all the other places around it, and why it seems so cold to newcomers. I'd be very happy to discover real community life there sometime!

Marilyn Z.Tomlins said...

Neuilly is the least likable part of Paris. It is in reality not Paris at all. Give me the Marais' narrow, winding streets any day, or the elegance of the Ile Saint Louis any day, but Neuilly I do not want.

Kiki said...

Adam; I was a bit put off by this post; I don't know much about Neuilly but visited twice and I was rather pleased with the clean feel this wealthy town displayed. Had a great time in an OLD but roomy house, surrounded by modern blocks which I did not like one bit.
Thankfully Melanie has defended Neuilly...., it takes out the sting you set. Having said that, I wouldn't want to live there either - :)

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