I’ve been to Paris more than a few times but I never exited a Metro stop called Chateau D’Eau because I certainly would have remembered. You can imagine how I felt the other day jetlegged and tired to find I’d flown eight plus hours to wind up in the Paris hood by getting off the Metro at the infamous Chateau D’Eau stop.

Gangs of vaguely threatening young men stood on every corner eyeballing me and my suitcase.

At first I was shocked — this was not my Paris but then I dug a little deeper and learned that I had wound up swapping apartments with someone who lived on “wig street.” The gangs of young men are “barkers” or “touts” and they stand on every corner to sometimes literally haul  black women in to the wig stores, hair salons and nail parlors that they work for. (I later learned that most everyone here is from the Congo.)

I saw one of these barkers take a woman by her hand and pull her into a shop. Another woman was chased down the street by a guy saying “Ecoute-moi, ecoute-moi (listen to me.) Some of the wilier men work the nearby Metro stops to catch prey before they get to the surface streets.

It’s quite a scene. These men are here all day, every day from morning until well past sunset. They don’t really bother anyone except black women but they certainly bother them with their uber-aggressive ways. There is also a man who sleeps on one spot — pretty much in a crosswalk — each day and night. And an old woman who makes sandwiches and butters baguettes all day long.

It’s not the Paris I came to visit and so I go my merry way but you could make a decent documentary on this street about the sub-culture that exists here outside the guide books…way outside.


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