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dodging bullets.

 Illustration by Jenny Bowers

Paris really is so many things; scenic, romantic, a feast for the eyes, and to some, it's even a fairy tale. But what is infrequently communicated is that it also can be really dangerous. Lately, it seems to have gotten really aggressive as I have been witness to some intense scenes happening on our precious little rues.

Last Saturday, on the aforementioned warm and sunny day, Aurelien and I decided to take a stroll around the northern parts of the city. The 65-degree day was spent capturing street art and soaking up vitamin D as we knew snow was going to blast through the city at least one last time this winter. Walking along the 20th arrondissement side of Boulevard de Charonne (opposed to 11th which is just across the street), we passed the apartment building where we were going to live had we not landed our current place.

And here it is...



Not the actual demolished building (although that would have been pretty funny), but the building that was it was adjacent to. I'd say we dodged a bullet there, as I can imagine annihilating and gutting out an entire building of this size was a noisy operation to conduct...to say the least.

So what happened next on this gorgeous, picturesque Parisian afternoon was not so funny. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Boulevard de Charonne is fairly wide hence sharing two arrondissements, and when approaching the intersection where Philippe Auguste meets the sidewalks gets slimmer to make room for a smaller sub-street provided for parked cars.

Just as I was pointing out the Italian market CasaItalia, reminding Aurelien that we should pick up coffee, a man approached us wearing a red knit snow cap. Normal I thought and scooched behind Aurelien to proceed in single file because the sidewalk was too slim for the three of us to pass at the same time. Within a matter of seconds, the man pushed him out of the way and pinned me up against the wall of the building I was alongside of, sleazily whispering in my ear in Spanish, calling me chica. Not understanding completely, I was able to gather that he had mistaken me for someone else. Clearly, someone, he did not like. Locked in his hold as he had my shoulders pinned back against the building, I wasn't able to hit him with my bag and before I could knee him in his man parts, Aurelien managed him off of me. I tried to escape while Aurelien held him back, but the man was making his intentions clear that he wanted to get to me by trying to get around Aurelien.

Worming my way around this brouhaha, making my way off this small and desolate sidewalk, with Aurelien holding his hand out to let me pass I managed to get out onto the mini street. Just then a car came and had Aurelien not yanked my arm, semi-pulling me back into this scene, I would have gotten hit by the mini Cooper approaching that I hadn't seen over the parked cars. Once the car passed, we ran across the street where the Spanish man proceeded to follow us. At this point I was hysterical because he was more than a drunk panhandler trying to get money, he was fixed on me. His grey eyes were glassed over, and based on his irrational approach it had occurred to me that this man was possibly on crack and really did want to hurt me. Aurelien who is not at all violent ended up having to punch him in the head, trip him so he fell in order to buy us time to get all the way across the street into the 11th. This all happened in a matter of fifteen seconds.

Trembling as Aurelien called the police, we stood across the street watching him pull himself up by grabbing the spoke of a moving Vélib bike and taking down the cyclist

As if the demolition wasn't enough, now I'm really glad we didn't have to take the apartment.

Having lived off the Marcy stop in Southside Williamsburg (which yes, is getting gentrified now, but five years ago it wasn't close to there yet), and Silver Lake where I heard gunshots every so often on Hoover Street, I now realize how lucky I am to not have experienced this before. So many thoughts have been bouncing around my head ever since: what if I was alone as I have been on this street many times (I tutor a family in the area), what if this happened with my mother who would have been screaming bloody shiksa murder, or worse with my three-year-old students. I'm still really shaken up and that day I spent the rest of the afternoon turning to see if someone was behind me.

Walking off the violent turn of events, eventually, we stopped at one of my favorite cafés Aux 3 Passages on Rue Saint Maur for a Perrier and a noisette. Aurelien spent a better part of our date ferociously Google searching Tasers for me. 

Okay, first of all, I am not carrying around a Taser with the option to "tase" people should the event present itself. I don't care if it comes in pink complete with a matching fitted leather case. And second, aren't they illegal? We compromised with a pepper spray keychain that should arrive in the mail any day now. But really, how dumb have I been to not have something to protect myself in any major city until now? I'm a pretty small girl, I can be taken down fairly easy.

But really, it seems like every day I'm hearing about iPhones being ripped out of people's hands, where now the victims are getting attacked if they resist handing over their possessions that they worked forAurelien and I witnessed a man being jumped by two guys over in the 9th at 6 pm for his smartphone, and recently a girlfriend told me that she saw a girl whose phone was swiped actually chase the crook off the metro, resulting in leaving behind her groceries and H&M shopping bags on the floor.

Not wanting to burst anyone's Paris dreams as it really is an enchanting place to live in, but nothing is 100%. To my friends here as well as who live in major cities, especially my ladies, please, please, please be careful. It's getting rough out there.

39 comments:

  1. Jesus! Thank God Seb was around! What a story!

    Goes to show though... You got confirmation twice in the same afternoon that you had picked the right neighbourhood! People are raving over Belleville, but I just don't feel safe there, even in broad daylight. Ironically, just yesterday, I was contemplating the purchase of a flat in Belleville or Menilmontant, telling myself that I might not have given those neighbourhoods a fair chance, but to me, your post confirms that I should just stick to my gut feeling on that one... Times are a-changing and the gap between rich and poor is increasing, ushering in a whole new wave of desperation-fueled violence.

    Don't kick yourself for not having had pepper spray in that instance... Looks to me that if a tall boyfriend didn't deter that unsavory character, the spray might have been useless. Besides, would you have been able to use it? It all happened so fast. I know, I'm hardly being comforting here...

    Let it be a lesson for us all ladies: we must be vigilant at all times, even in broad daylight. Sometimes it's better to leave the iPod at home so we can be aware of our surroundings at all times.

    God, I'm glad you made it out unscathed.

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    1. Yeah it was pretty bad, this story. I still can't believe just how quickly it all happened.

      In a guest post I wrote about my two cents on all of the arrondissements, I wrote that for a first time visitor the 20th wouldn't be the best choice and apparently this upset avid fans of the 20th! I've never had the best experiences up there. While I love Gambetta (Seb's grandma actually lives over there), I just find the lower part to be sketchy. Case in point, this post!

      Good point on the iPod. I have been leaving mine home since the beginning of the year because I realized how tuned out of our surroundings we are when we're plugged in like that. The bright side is that I have been reading more!

      Thanks for your comment, Duchesse. I feel so lucky that nothing like this has happened in any of my previous lives because I really did live in some shady neighborhoods (in LA, I didn't have parking!)

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  2. Whoa. what a story. it just kept going. glad you are safe and sound and seb is such a hero! thank goodness you didnt live next to the demolished building too. and i LOLed with the vision of you with a pink taser w/ a leather case... i was expecting feathers.. too much. x

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    1. Hahaha yeah it did keep going, didn't it? I actually left some bits out for the sake of the length of the post. It was pure pandemonium, and you know I didn't help anything as I was cursing him out in English.

      The taser!!! Can you imagine, we all get together for drinks and by accident my pink taser falls out of my bag, "oh woops, hey can you grab my taser it just rolled under the table, thanks" I am SO NOT carrying a taser even if it comes with a Marc by Marc-esque matching leather case. : )

      Have fun in the UK!!!

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  3. Always a worthwhile reminder. I'm so, so sorry this happened to you but thank god you're okay! Hope neither you nor Seb encounter something quite like this again.

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    1. Thanks Danielle. Yes this is a cautionary tale for all of us who live in any major city. You just never know!

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  4. That sounds terrifying! Really glad to hear you are ok (and a little bit disappointed you aren't going for the taser with the pink leather case). As Duchesse said, don't beat yourself up for not having worried about this kind of thing in the past - it sounds as though that guy was just a complete nutter, so it's not as though you did anything to provoke him, and the fact that you (and I, and plenty of other people) have never had this happen before shows is actually pretty reassuring.

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    1. It really was terrifying. I had no idea what was happening and then it was over (thank God). Well now I'm armed should this happen again. I just hope I don't get nervous and forget how to pop the safety off my pepper spray.

      Oh yeah, the guy was a total crack head, who knows what he would have done. Ewww, I don't want to know.

      Thanks for your comment. : )

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  5. Yikes, glad the pair of you were together! I don't live in the best area of Glasgow, and I frequently get teased about it by my colleagues, but I've never had any trouble. Sometimes I think it might be more good luck than good management, as I seem to have almost always been absent when anything has kicked off, either at work or at uni. Who knew education and a job could save your life!

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    1. I'm so happy that we were together. That would have been a nightmare had I been alone. I probably would have just screamed bloody murder, hoping someone would come.

      Yes, I agree that luck would have something to do with it but be careful not to push and be aware. Maybe YOU need a pink taser too! : P

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  6. One of my family members was mugged (for his phone) in Paris a few weeks back as well while walking home.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear that. It happens a lot here, but now the thieves are getting violent and that's what's worrying me. I hope your relative is alright.

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  7. Oh my, that is shocking! I know Paris is full of criminals but still, that's awful. I hope you are alright. I've been attacked once back in Finland and ended to ER after, i was pretty scared for a while after that. I avoid the night time alone even in Avignon, I've heard it's violent here too. Take care miss, bises.

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    1. Hi Sini, thanks for your comment. Yes, I'm totally alright, just a little freaked out given that it was 3pm in the afternoon and he wasn't exactly looking for money.

      Oh my goodness! I'm so sorry your incident resulted in going to the ER! I can imagine how freaked out you were after! I really am so sorry. Wow.

      It just shows that we need to be aware at all times, even when we think it's just a sunny afternoon. I will never walk around with my iPod again!

      Thanks again Sini for your comment. : )

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  8. Wow, that's really scary! Can't believe it happened in the middle of the afternoon, too! Glad you're both ok.

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    1. Thanks Callie! We're fine, just a little freaked out but luckily he didn't hurt me. With all of your travels I'm sure you've seen some things too. We can never be too careful.

      Now I REALLY need to catch up on your blog - where are you NOW?? My favorite jet-setting blogger! : )

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  9. Yikes! I would have been terrified! Even with my boyfriend there! I'm glad you're both okay.

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    1. Thank you Shannon. Yeah it was crazy. I'm so glad that we didn't take that apartment!!! Always trust your gut! How are you, Miss? : )

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  10. I'm glad you mentioned this element of Paris because this is what I hear about quite often. Some of my friends in Grenoble have moved there, and the first thing they talk about is the violence they've witnessed in their new city. I hear about a lot of stollen phones too. I think I'd be really freaked out at night especially.. but hearing this daytime story.. eek. I walked about Belleville the last time I was there.. Definitely felt weird vibes.

    I hope you are okay; so sorry that that had happened to you guys!

    Even after being in a very safe, small city for 2 years where no such events have happened to me, I still have these big city habits like never letting anyone walk behind me, I often pause to the side and let them go.. I do this weekly! Or have my hand on my phone (or something sharp) in my pocket when I'm walking at night (this city can be so empty at night! creeps me out).. and wearing shoes good enough to run in is also important.

    This is a good reminder for all of us to always be aware of our surroundings.
    Be well ~

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    1. Hi Dana,

      This area is hit or miss and I'm aware of the sketchier sides. I just didn't think Blvd. de Charonne was one of them. This is a pretty big street with tons of commerce and cafes - unfortunately just not in the stretch we were attacked in.

      Smart phone robbery is huge here. Everyday I hear of a new story. I have never loved my shitty Nokia phone more! I at least have the liberty to text in public....but that's really about it.

      Always be aware even if you are in a small town because you just never know. Yeah, I always let someone pass too. I don't like when someone is walking in my blind spot, it freaks me out. Must be a crazy New Yorker thing!

      Thanks for your comment, Dana. : )

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  11. Glad Seb was there and you're okay, but you must be so shaken up! I am probably a bit complacent a lot of the time - I don't want to go the other way and get paranoid, but we do have to be careful! A friend of mine told me the other day that she got mugged by a 12 year-old in Créteil or somewhere like that. Apparently they send the kids in because they won't get a record!

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    1. Sending in children to do the dirty work is just disgusting. Almost as gross as little girls being sent to flirt and haggle for money on the RER after their mother sings a song. I saw a girl put her hands on her hips, bat her eyelashes and ask for more money from a man because his 50 centimes wasn't enough. She couldn't have been older than 10. I could see her future a little too clear. I hope I'm wrong.

      You can never be too careful. If somethings seems off, it might be. Stay safe, Gwan.

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  12. Not only did you escape the noise and vibrations from the construction site, but you probably avoided a cancer from all the contaminated dust in the air!!!
    I had a scary man incident when I was here as an exchange student and have carried a Swiss Army knife in bag ever since. Only had to use it for self defense twice in all these years...
    I am going to show your article to my 15 years old who thinks I am an over protective loon because I will not return her fake ID so that she can go clubbing until the wee hours of the morn, hopefully coming from a hipper, chicer you, it will make a difference!!!

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    1. Yeah, totally, cancer and all of the rodents whose home got demolished as they scurry to the adjacent buildings. I used to hear about that all the time in the city, new buildings getting infested due to a big construction projects in the neighborhood.

      Wow, you've actually had to use it, not once but TWICE! Next time I see you, if you want, I'd like to know what happened.

      Please show this to ta petite. I don't know where these clubs are, I imagine that they're not on the Champs, so good for you for not giving her back her ID (they ID here?!)

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  13. What a terrifying experience that must have been! Thank heavens Seb was there. What a whack job. You must have been scared senseless.
    Unfortunately for me, I know that Paris isn't all romance and Champagne, the last time I was there a guy grabbed me in a very disgusting way. It's been a long time now but I still have to shake it off every time I think about it.

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    1. I was really scared. I couldn't escape because he kept pushing Seb out of the way to get to me. I still have no idea what he wanted.

      Gross! I don't know why pervs get off on touching total strangers. I'm sorry that happened. That's just disturbing.

      I prefer Paris when it's all romance and champagne, but we can't afford to live on that side of town. One day, maybe...

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  14. Man just reading this now and I agree with Duchesse..you have to trust your gut.
    I've wandered all over places on my own but the main thing is you have to always look like you know where you are going, even if you don't and honestly..have a mean look on your face or at least not an open innocent one...you have to look like you mean business.

    now I'm no longer a young lady like yourself who is more likely to be a target but a woman on her own always has to be aware...

    but the crazy thing is Seb was right there...obviously this guy was out of his mind on something...

    stay safe girlie.

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    1. Hi Deb,

      Yeah, there was something about this apartment that I didn't love and was really hoping that our current place would work out, in a quieter part of town.

      I generally have bitch face when approaching a questionable character, but on a Sunday afternoon taking about picking up coffee I didn't think I needed my guard up. Apparently I was wrong. I have seen guys checking me out on the metro wanting to do no good. First, I pull out my shitty phone to communicate I have nothing to steal, give a hard look and quickly walk in the opposite direction. It works.

      Thanks for your comment, Deb. I guess I have to be more aware!

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  15. Wow, what a scary encounter! You're so lucky that Seb was there to help get this crazy guy off of you! And that poor cyclist. Glad you didn't get hurt!

    It's amazing (and so sad) how many of us have had experiences like this. I had been pretty naive to the theft and violence in Paris, thinking "Oh it won't happen to me!" But then it did. My iPhone was swiped out of my hands a couple of months ago, but I'm constantly looking over my shoulder and feel a bit paranoid any time I'm in the metro alone.

    xoxo

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    1. I know! The poor cyclist!!! I keep thinking about him too. He just picked himself up, cursed at the maniac and sped off. Oh and he had a baguette in the front basket. It was quite a scene!

      Ugh you too we're robbed! I think every person I know has been robbed on the metro. It's disgusting. Be careful and keep your new phone concealed!! xo.

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  16. Oh, Ella! What an awful thing to have happen - and for some reason it seems even worse that it happened on one of the rare sunny days when you were in high spirits and happy to be outside. Thank goodness that Seb was able to get the guy off you without being harmed. Pepper spray sounds like a good solution. I'm going to suggest that my daughter get some because she's staying in a pretty sketchy part of NYC.

    While I'm very, very sorry that this happened, thanks for telling us about your experience. It's a good reminder that we always have to be vigilant.

    Take care and be safe!

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    1. We really were in such high spirits because of the weather! I have learned though, spring is when the crazies come out. The weather is warm, and they're not cooped up in the metro under a dirty blanket...it's an awakening for all.

      Pepper spray is always a good idea because you never know. Oh no, she's staying in a sketchy part of town? NYC still has those? Fill me in next time we see each other.

      Yes this is a cautionary tale for all to just watch your back!

      Thanks for your comment, MK!

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  17. You are marrying the right man. Thought I know we all want to be Independent Ladies, sometimes it's really helpful to have a man by your side, and even more so if he is brave and willing to stick up for you.

    This reminds me of last summer when I got slapped in the face by a stranger. Friday afternoon, broad daylight, walking along the side of Saint Sulpice church. This random guy just slapped me, so hard that my sunglasses flew into the street, and my first instinct was to hit him back (ha!) but I didn't because I saw that crazy look in his eyes that I bet you saw in this guy - one you shouldn't mess with.

    I'm really glad you're okay.

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  18. Holy sweet baby Krishna - I just got around to catching up on your posts and this shook me to my bones!

    Just like most city gals, we think we are invincible. I suppose all those Law and Order episodes should tell me otherwise! I am so glad that you had Seb with you.

    And thank goodness you turned down that apartment - just sounds like bad news all round.

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  19. Eh oui... C'est Paris. When I tell someone that Paris can be dangerous, it's not all pretty and pink, they don't believe me and look at me like "weirdo" but I m from there and I was not living in Rue St Germain, so I know!
    But, in all fairness, nothing happened to me while there (touch wood). I only got punch in the face once by junkies, while living in Dublin, not nice but at least they didn't attacked me with their niddles! Jeez the world is mad, i hate it! Hope you are ok now girl... Be careful please xx

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  20. Ella, sorry I have been busy this last week and just catching up with my favourite blogs...

    What an awful thing to have happened. Unfortunate that this deranged man targeted you. and as others have said, thank goodness Seb was around. I hope you are feeing well now.

    I know only to well haw this kind of incident unsettles you and rocks your security. I too was mugged at knife point some years age ( not in Paris, but the hospital car park where I work.) It took me years before I truly stopped looking over my shoulder and probably never really have. Maybe that is not such a bad thing, as I am probably more "streetwise" than I was before. Funnily enough, the court case a year later was probably as traumatic if not more than the actual attack.

    However, interesting reactions form people, it never occurred to me to carry a taser, knife, or a pepper spray ( apart from the fact it illegal to carry all these in the UK, yes even pepper spray. ) I would be too afraid they could be used against ME....or even worse do some serious damage to the attacker, and pay for it for the rest of my life. ...... actually when I think about it perfume or hairspray would probably be just as effective,... although a bit of a waste!!!LOL!

    I now know from this experience (and others) that my instinctive knee jerk reaction is not to be aggressive, but to try to appease the attacker. We all behave in different ways and until we are in a position of threat, we do not know how we act. With hindsight I could think, I" should have kneed him in his goolies or even run away", but in reality that is not how I reacted. and it has happened a couple of times and my reaction did not change.

    I like the Belville area, but yes I have noticed some "dodgy" cafes when I walk through there. To my experienced eye they are probably places where " gangs" hang out. Not that I feel to threatened by gangs as they usually are more interested in intergang hostility that the odd tourist. I guess you could get a drunken deranged man anywhere.

    Hope you are feeling better by now.
    Love Denise

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  21. Oh my! What an adventurous life you lead! Sadly I've been hearing more stories like this recently in Paris, a friend had her purse taken from her at near Gare de Lyon by high school punks.
    So glad to hear that everyone is alright!
    -Lauren
    PS- yet another reason why not to get a smartphone!!

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