France: Sleep deprived Parisians want less noise

By Rory Mulholland

A battle is raging on Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis, a shabby Paris street where hip bars are sprouting like mushrooms, and it's part of a wider war in the city pitching sleep-starved residents against nocturnal revellers.

Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis in Paris groans under the weight of its inhabitants. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user marceline
Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis in Paris groans under the weight of its inhabitants. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user marceline

In districts across Paris, officials are trying to reconcile locals' demands for peace and quiet with the French capital's stated aim of regaining its lost reputation as a buzzing city with great nightlife.

The freewheeling scenes in Berlin, Barcelona or London have left Paris so far behind in the eyes of many revellers that Le Monde newspaper a few years ago dubbed it the "European Capital of Boredom''.

On Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis, where almost every month a Turkish kebab joint or grocery store closes down to reemerge as an über-trendy cafe or restaurant, many locals would welcome a lot more "boredom''.

"It's impossible to live on this street,'' said Vianney Delourme, a 36-year-old editor who recently moved to a nearby street to escape the incessant noise - fights, laughter, shouts and smashing glass - on what is now one of Paris's trendiest spots for folk looking for a boozy night out.

"The cafés dictate the law and the mayor does nothing. The police don't give a hoot and the mayor doesn't have the law enforced,'' he fumed.

Delourme used to live in a flat overlooking Chez Jeanette, arguably the street's trendiest bar, from where media, film and other creative types spill out onto the footpath to smoke and drink and flirt.

Overflow from more than a dozen other nearby cafes makes navigating the street a perilous business in the evening, when much of the remaining free space is taken up by African immigrants drinking cans of beer and playing cards on top of rubbish cans.

Africans are just one of the many communities that frequent or live on the street, which is a continuation of Rue Saint-Denis, Paris's now-fading red-light district.

These include Kurds, Poles, Serbs, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, north Africans, native French and a growing number of foreign tourists directed here by guide books that list Chez Jeannette's as one of the coolest bars in town.

It is this eclectic mix that locals want to preserve and which they see as being slowly destroyed by the seemingly inexorable increase in the number of bars, which close at 1am or 2am but whose customers often hang around until much later.

A Facebook campaign has been launched to try to ensure the street does not go the way of places like Rue Oberkampf, transformed in just a few years from a backwater into a raucous thoroughfare almost entirely given over to boozing.

Fleur Lacarelle, one of the organisers of the campaign, said her children frequently can't sleep because of the racket, and pointed to a petition by the local fishmonger - exasperated by people urinating on her shopfront at night - that has garnered dozens of signatures asking local authorities to curb drinking on the street.

"The shame is that there are laws. All they need to do is enforce them,'' said Lacarelle, who said she is so sick of the noise that she too may have to move out.

City authorities use a range of measures to try to curb noise from drinkers, who took to the streets in greater numbers after smoking was banned in enclosed spaces in France in 2008.

These include a ban on local shops selling alcohol after 9pm, temporary closure of bars and even sending in the police. This summer the authorities also deployed wandering troupes of mime artists to try to persuade patrons to be quiet when they go outside to smoke or enjoy a balmy evening.

Remi Feraud, the Socialist mayor of the 10th arrondissement, in which lies Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis, said local authorities are doing all they can to make sure drinking establishments stay in line.

"Particularly when a café has two-thirds of its clientele out on the footpath. That is not in keeping with the law,'' he said.

He said his officials had brought residents and bar owners together in a neighbouring street to draw up a "charter'' aimed at lowering decibel levels, and that he hoped the same could be done in Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis.

The manager of Chez Jeanette said he employs a doorman to make sure his lively clientele behave when they are outside.

Yet despite these assurances, the street in front of Chez Jeanette and many other bars heaves with revellers most nights of the week, to such an extent that walking out into the middle of the road is often the only way to get past.

Feraud said there was no question of sending police in large numbers to move these crowds on, and hinted that residents might just have to get used to the situation.

"If I wanted to caricature the Parisian, I would say that he wants to be able to party below the windows of other people, but the evening when he doesn't want to party, he doesn't want others to party below his window,'' he said.

Alex Toledano, an American currently completing a doctoral thesis for Berkeley University on the history of Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis, said the street was symptomatic of many of the changes taking place in Paris.

Rent and real estate value have soared over the past couple of decades as younger and wealthier people move into central areas like this one.

"I think there's an urban vision that many people in Paris, especially property owners, share. They want to live on a diverse, bustling street during the daytime but one that is quiet at night,'' he said.

But he noted that change in this neighbourhood has been constant since the 1950s.

"It has constantly evolved, with different communities moving in and out, different businesses opening and closing.

"It's healthy for a neighbourhood in general to be changing. The problem is if it's a situation where only a certain type of business can afford to open here,'' said Toledano.

- AAP

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