Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Reflections on a Paris Left Behind"

I live a block away from the Buttes-Chaumont park in the 19th arrondissement.
I've been walking through the park about 3-4 times a week the past 4  months enroute to the pool. It's a constant source of delight and serenity.
When I read this paragraph in Sunday's New York Times story on Paris by soon departing editor, Steven Erlanger I took umbrage. Deep umbrage.
How come I've never encountered these gangs he refers to in my walks through the park?
Have I just been lucky?
Or has he been supremely unlucky..?
I have seen plenty of people strolling,
And 'footing'/jogging
No one has come close to running me down on their bike. It's not allowed in the park.
Quite a few things are not allowed at Buttes-Chaumont Parc.
Like walking on the grass in some areas.
But in other areas kids are having a ball.
Sunbathers and picnickers all summer long were having a ball too.
Plenty of readers don't seem threatened by these 'gangs' Erlanger refers to.

This is my favorite place in the Buttes - a hidden grotto. The park is completely man-made (opened April 1, 1867) and the 6th biggest in Paris among some 600 parks.
A wonderful waterfall.
And babbling brook.
Instant serenity.
It's true I've only walked through about a 1/3 of the Buttes-Chaumont so perhaps I've missed these threatening, warring gangs Erlanger writes of. Or perhaps he's wrong on this point. Such a damning sentence and read by millions of readers makes me want to "get up and go to the window and shout,
If this one sentence can be so wrong what about all the other negative points Erlanger makes about Paris? Sure there is still dog poop on the streets but it's so much cleaner than it was years ago. In the 19th arr. the streets are sluiced down TWO TIMES A DAY - at 7 am and 9 pm at night. I never saw this in New York.
I do agree, after living here just 10 months, Paris is not the romantic haven I previously envisioned. For me it's a family-oriented town. There are so many kids in this town that it changes the tenor of a place, but in such a delightful way. Plus kids under 12 get into most events free here. Thusly creating the future museum-goers and art lovers Erlanger complains of. By the way Erlanger makes no mention of the 36 fabulous pools in Paris. My pool even has a skating rink. If you've been lucky enough to be a guest in Paris for five years, couldn't you leave more graciously without all this whinging?
OK, now I'll go back to painting pastries and get off my soapbox.
Bonne Journee!


  1. Bonjour Carol.

    Long time no talk to. Glad I stopped by today. I spent some time aux Buttes Chaumont with my son and nephew this summer. I did not notice gangs either.

    Monsieur Erlanger seems to suffer from two well-known addictions: 1. The New York Times' predictable habit of criticizing every French 2. The Paris expat whining-moaning-bitching syndrome (Ah, the French bureaucracy... blah-blah-blah... Poop on the sidewalks... blah-blah-blah... Arrogant Parisians... blah-blah-blah... Overpriced restaurants... blah-blah-blah... Nasty waiters... blah-blah-blah...) When in doubt, stick to stereotypes!

    I have not read his article, and based on your story, I probably won't. So he has left Paris, and "Il crache dans la soupe," eh?

    Quelle surprise! Glad you, at least, are still enjoying the big crazy city. Enjoy it for us both, s'il vous plaît.
    Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

    1. I shall assume that means to "spit in your soup"?
      I so agree with your comments.
      Why moan and complain about a town that I'll bet treated him like a prince.
      So boring these moaners

  2. Good for you for moving to Paris and making your dream come true! I was in Paris for 4 months, I just came home last week and I loved it, but I came back to California for the winter. I was in Buttes-Chaumont, very charming, peaceful place. So much propoganda in the news, people asked me if everyone speaks Arabic now in Paris. Oh please!!

    1. THANKS Alecia!
      So funny the misconceptions spread around about Paris.
      The NYTimes should know better.

  3. No kidding, Sarah Lyall's good-bye letter to London took the same tone! What up, NY Times-sters????

    Les Buttes Chaumonts looks lovely!

  4. He's seeing Paris through the eyes of a grumpy old fart. You're seeing Paris through the eyes of a patisserie loving artist. I want YOUR Paris, s'il vous plait.

    1. Carol is so much more than a patisserie loving artist, and that is the secret of the universal appeal of her writing, be it her character, her background, her literacy, and not least her nobleness of heart.

  5. Thank you! Although I only spent a few hours in Buttes-Chaumont last year (doing a couple of sketches there), it was lovely. I didn't want to believe his comments.

  6. Thank you, Carol, for sharing your experience and opinion about Paris and that beautiful park in particular!
    Unfortunately, it seems to be a specialty of some journalists who suffer the hardship of having to work in European cities to go and seek out the negative. What are they thinking? Negative equals news? (All things beautiful already reported by ordinary people?)

    I remember an article about Vienna in the same paper that made me really upset, back when I was still fairly new and did not understand yet that negative news apparently is what's selling articles. Here's my rant, from back in 2008:

    I always wonder if these writers ever talk to real people, people who know a place intimately, the up and the down sides, who can balance and explain what is really going on behind the scenes.

    1. There are notable exceptions, Adam Gopnik for instance.

  7. Good for you Carol for speaking up. It sounds like M. Erlanger never actually walked around the park, just sat in his plush office enjoying the view. I can tell you're mad, no sketch today :(

  8. Anonymous4:39 AM

    I have lived in Paris for ten years and when I first arrived I thought it was a paradise and it still is in some ways however underneath all the glitter it is a troubled city which one doesn't notice until a pickpocket gets your wallet which happened to me twice. I agree with the opinion of the writer.

    1. There are pickpockets in every major city. In New York they have guns, in London knives.
      I don't see what that has to do with blasting a perfectly fine park?
      Please explain further Anonymous?

    2. City parks are not about glitter nor is cleaning the streets twice a day. The transportation runs well and on time. Is Paris perfect?
      Is any city anywhere?

    3. I am with you on this Carol ,, I have friends that live in the area of the parc and I have never heard anything about gangs !!! I am sure they would of mentioned it too me at some point .. I was only there for a few hours once , and not a gang in sight!! Of course Paris has it's troubles like all major cities , , We will come over and help you on your soap box :-)

  9. Sensational post Carol. I read this article a few days ago, and was very surprised at his opinions. Surely the bureau chief for the NYT in Paris would have a better time than that? Every city does have an underbelly, but his article just seemed like sour grapes.

  10. Bonjour Carol! This post HAS to make it to the Times - I hope you try to submit it in some form.

  11. Anonymous9:20 AM

    I love the reports on Paris you give us. Yes Paris is not perfect but it is almost perfect to many of us who read your blog. The more I visit the more my glasses are "less rose colored" but that being said I still love all there is to LOVE about Paris. This reporter from the NYT wants to print what will sell and bad news sells. Your blog always gives us something positive to look forward to. You living your dream is wonderful. You are so fortunate you could do this. My dream will have to be to visit Paris when I can (13 visits so far). I will neaver be able to live there but when I do visit it is living my dream. Thanks for all you do for all of us Paris lovers! I have taken some of your good advice and seen some things you have told us about. Thanks again. There is enough negative in the world...lets talk about the good things!

  12. you can always rely on the media to get it wrong more times than right ...

  13. Hi Carole, Such a beautiful park, thanks for giving us the real inside info on it. The NYT write, meh. What does he know :)

  14. Jane S.9:52 AM

    not to worry -- he's getting beaucoup flak for what he wrote!

  15. Brava to you for calling out Steven Erlanger on his NYT article!
    I read the same article and was equally skeptical of the author's views. Parc Buttes-Chaumont is one of our favorites and we head back there every time we are in Paris. Any city has its warts, but I don't see them in the areas of Paris he was describing. I think he just has a case of sour grapes because he had to leave behind the most lovely city in the world!

  16. Well stated,Carol! I did read his article as well as many of the comments posted in response. Any major city will suffer these problems of pick-pockets and "gangs"--my father and my hubbie were surrounded by a female group of pickers in Prague 15 years ago, I had a most unpleasant exchange with an immigrant boy playing tough kid in front of his gang on the Paris Metro last spring, as they all practiced their pick-pocketing skills in front of everyone. It happens, but that in no way grants license to paint Paris with such a broad brush. Is she perfect? No, but I will continue to adore her despite her shortcomings. x Katie

  17. A soap box is exactly what a blog is for. Lovely pictures. I live in Paris vicariously through you.

  18. Thanks for these! I've got a murder in my next book in this park - but in winter. These pictures are so pretty, they're making me feel guilty for my nefarious plot.

  19. Stacey Cartier2:07 PM

    After doing a little digging, it seems this lovely park was indeed known as a mecca for gang wars and incidents of intercommunal violence. In fact, a young Jewish boy was brutally beaten there in 2008 by a gang. There are plenty of negative reveiws on Tripadvisor about a hotel nearby with writers complaining about gangs, noise and feeling generally unsafe at night. Other than a woman having a gold necklace yanked off her recently (and that can happen anywhere in Paris (as I know all too well) or elsewhere. The good news is that other than the stolen necklace, all this was written 2008 - 2010. So at least at somepoint, the article may contain some truths. Articles such as this one are only one person's opinion; no point in raising your blood pressure! If we didn't love Paris, we wouldn't be reading this blog, right? And one person's opinion is not about to change my mind!

    1. Anonymous5:30 PM

      Stacy is right.

    2. To write about an incident that occurred 5 years ago in a paper read by millions of people?
      No, unacceptable.
      check out a 2012 crime report on Central Park here
      "In the month of July (2012) alone, four people died and nine more were wounded in violent incidents in New York recreational areas"

  20. I am glad you wrote about where you is more educational than reading a live in a very pretty and serene is hard to find land for parks in Phoenix and Scottsdale...there is so much greed that there has to be a building of some sort on the properties....the Golden Gate Park is similar to Central Park, but here there is nothing ...of course we have duds running our cities... Aggressive to bring corporations and clog this area more...the air is filthy as we sit down in a valley so it's impossible to get rid of the dirt....we have dust storms that kill...and comes in the homes thru vents...and I am stuck here...

    1. Somehow the French understand you need parks. Especially for the children.

  21. Larry Walker2:23 PM

    I thought his column was really snarky
    good reply/
    cheers/ Larrty

  22. I'm baffled! But then, when I first looked at the sign for "keep off the grass" I thought it meant you couldn't wear shoes on the grass. I mean, it does show the shoe crossed out, right?

  23. When I read Steve Erlanger's article, I wondered if it was somehow a
    different City from the one my wife Peggy and I had been visiting over the
    last several decades. We have meandered in and around the Parc
    Buttes-Chaumonte many times and have yet to see such roving gangs and the
    neighborhood seems to us to be pretty typical, nice areas. Thanks for
    taking Steve on!

  24. How very sad! With all of the beauty and joy in Paris, he has to write something such as this. He must be a very sad Man to see only these things. Good for you and your soapbox!!

  25. What a lovely Park. Bummer about the nay sayer but never fear Carol rides to the rescue. :) I was interested to hear how your perception has changed of Paris living there awhile from romantic to family oriented. but I imagine the romantic seeps thru here and there. :)

  26. I'm glad that you set that straight!
    I assumed he was telling the truth :)
    I think that the reason he is coming home is for mental health care.........

  27. Annabella8:06 PM

    I did have to laugh at his description of the "hideous Tour Montparnasse, which for decades has given skyscrapers a bad name here", as if NY is not full of skyscrapers blocking out the sky. At least in Paris they are much fewer and positioned outside the city centre so it is such a pleasant place to walk. I live in Australia and Sydney is almost as bad as NY with crowded narrow skyscraper city streets and there's more dog poo in my small country town than i ever saw in well as untrained surly young waitresses and gangs of kids high on meth roaming around at night, which doesn't make me love where i live any less but it is ridiculous for this journalist to take such easy and inaccurate potshots. There are some great comments from Parisiennes after his article btw. Thanks for an interesting diversion with this 'rant' Carol! :)

  28. this should be a letter to the editor -- complete with photos! It looks like a lovely park to me -- I think he's just unlucky or has some sort of chip on his shoulder!

  29. Bonjour,

    Je ne vis pas à Paris mais je n'ai jamais entendu parler de ce fameux gang non plus !.. Le danger peut résider partout même dans les lieux les plus paisible des campagnes. Le monde est fou !
    De très jolies photos... J'aime vos illustrations sur les pâtisseries...
    Gros bisous

  30. What a mean spirited thing to say about Paris! We need to unite! It is still the loveliest city in the world and where I have the most amazing memories with my 2 daughters. This could cause even more damage with our image and friendship with the French. I always try and be a good ambassador for the USA by being a good tourist. A good tourist doesn’t need to ask a million questions and dress like a bumpkin. My, my, what a rude American comment! You need to ask us all to write to a certain person at the NY Times so we all can counter this! Thanks for letting us know! All big cities have some things you need to be careful of. Thank you and keep going!

  31. Anonymous9:58 AM

    I love Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and so do my kids. We've never encountered battling gangs there, but we've had great barbe à papa and taken in the beautiful views of the city. I love the fact that Parisians of all backgrounds and ages make use of the city's beautiful parks. It makes the city feel alive and less like the ivory prison Erlanger seems to have experienced. And I live near the périphérique and my son goes to school on the périphérique and it in no way resembles the Berlin Wall. I think Erlanger needed the leave the 16th more often.

  32. Wow--I'm so glad you got up on your soapbox! I, too, read this Paris rant and found it to be very disquieting and possibly a deterrent to future Paris travelers. It made me apprehensive in certain respects about my planned return to Paris next year, i.e., which areas of the city would I not wish to venture into, much less stay, if I were traveling alone. My first trip to Paris last year made me very much want to return again, and I'm fully convinced I should not let people like Erlanger put a damper on my plans. Hopefully he suffered a lot of negative feedback as a result of his writing this article.


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