Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What makes a neighbourhood?

In Paris most neighbourhoods are defined by firstly, whether they are on the left or right bank, which determines whether there are leanings of conservative or liberal, bourgeois or bohemian, artsy, tourist hot-spots or not; and then by the usual determinants, of race - yes, dare I say it in the country that defines itself around its liberté, égalité, fraternité even race will always be there - and religious affiliation, although to a lesser extent. When you find yourself in certain neghbourhoods race does become a determinant, the 18th is populated by a predominantly African population; Chinatown in the 13th, and the Marais district is often referred to as the Jewish part of Paris. Even the banlieu's are known for the most part as home to immigrant (or not) North African populations.

In Neuilly-sur-Seine it is a bit more difficult to see the defining characteristics. Granted I have only been here for just over a month, I am still trying to understand what it is that truly defines this neighbourhood. It is not solely the bourgeois neighbourhood I was warned of.  Yes, there is a certain sense of orderliness about some parts of it, if you venture into the more residential parts - and this was clearly illustrated on a  random walk with my kids. Squealing with laughter as they scooted along the pedestrian paths, it started getting quieter when we ventured beyond the main avenue, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, which is more commercial buildings and offices and can be loosely defined as the business district of Neuilly. A few streets further the noise of the traffic was gone and I actually found I had to stop myself from shushing them. It was the quiet hum of silence and tranquility that makes you speak in hushed tones without even realising you're doing so. This is the more residential part when on a walk you are lucky if you encounter more than ten people. The age distribution in these parts tends to be more mature, and you're more likely to encounter nannies or moms with strollers than the average person rushing to or from work.
Yet, other parts of this same neighbourhood are all restaurants and bars, deli's and boulangeries and the general caucophony of noise that Paris neighbourhoods offer. What is still there though are the ubiquitous pharmacies.
My Neuilly...yet to be discovered, defined and well understood - I am well on my way though.

More of My Neuilly pictures can be found here.

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