It's one of those words that Parisians hear and shudder. To them, banlieue basically means, "not Paris", and it's deeply upsetting for 99.9% of Parisians to even consider living there.
When friends decide that they want to end their lives as renters and enter the world of home-ownership, only the lucky few, who have either top-knotch salaries or VERY generous parents, get to keep calling Paris their home. All the others move to (gasp!) the banlieue. (Or they just rent forever, always an option).
You see, Paris is a very defined space. The city, which has grown immensely since it was first inhabited, waaaaay back in the day, has now been encircled by the périphérique - the motorway. Inside the périphérique is the coveted 75 zip code - AKA, Paris; but outside (yeah, even just on the other side of it) - yikes, you jump into 92, 93, 94 territory. It is NOT a good situation.
See all the gray parts? That's not Paris.
Long story short: you move to the banlieue and A. no one visits you anymore (you live "too far away"!), B. you are even more dependent on public transportation, C. you are no longer Parisian. Long story even shorter: no one really wants to live in or go to the banlieue.
So why do people move there, you ask? It's simple: it's slightly less expensive than ridiculously, outrageously expensive, Paris. Instead of a teeny, tiny Parisian apartment, you may be able to afford a small-ish apartment in the banlieue. I'm talking 550 square feet, if you are lucky. Your children *may* be able to enjoy having an actual room instead of a closet. See, lots of great options out there.
The reason I'm bringing up this whole banlieue thing, is because Copain and I are actually considering considering an apartment there. Yes, I meant to write "considering" twice. We are considering the idea of considering the banlieue. It's kind of depressing.
After visiting about 8 apartments in Paris and seeing the sad state of affairs / apartments that we could buy, we had to think outside
Paris the box. The apartments we saw were a mix of "newly refurbished" and "in shambles", "well-placed" and "out in the middle of nowhere", "all you have to do is gut it" and "see, that parking lot view is not so bad for such a great location!" but they did have one thing in common: they were all out-of-this-world expensive. I'm talking around 400,000 Euros (not including notary fees!!) for a shoebox. Here is the problem with shoeboxes - they don't work well for families. For now it's just me and Copain, but what about when mini-Frenchie comes along? I'm all for making do, but I think that making your child sleep in the bathtub could be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.
On Monday I told Copain that on Saturday we would visit, DUM DUM DUM....the banlieue! I made a list of places that we would check out, including: Saint-Mandé (expensive banlieue), Vincennes (expensive banlieue), Charenton-le-Pont (slightly-less expensive banlieue) and Saint-Maurice (almost-affordable banlieue). Guess which one is the furthest from Paris? Exactly. However, the one thing that all of these towns have going for them is that they border the Bois de Vincennes - the woods located on the east side of Paris. They are family-friendly, clean, have a reputation for being safe, and all of them (except for Saint-Maurice) also border Paris. The fact that they *touch* Paris on one side is like, really important - just ask any Parisian.
We totally followed through with my banlieue tour plan today, and walked all the way from Saint-Mandé, down to Saint-Maurice, up to Charenton-le-Pont and then hopped on a bike back to Paris. The entire time we tried to convince ourselves that we liked each place. Our conversation was peppered with - look, a park! this is cute! see there is life here! wow, I feel safe - how about you? doesn't this seem like a great area? It was like watching an awkward coming of age movie - two teens, first kiss, trying to convince each other that, no, you're a really great kisser! Needless to say, our relief upon arrival in Paris was palpable - we could finally relax and breathe again. Basically, the banlieue is a bad kisser and we both knew it but didn't want to say anything. Nothing can replace Paris.
Next weekend we've planned for another banlieue tour, this time on the other side of the city. We will be homeowners someday... but for now, I'll just blog about my banlieue adventures from my taupe couch in the teeniest apartment of them all. In Paris.