Mira Kamdar, a former Paris-based editorial board member of The New York Times, is the author of the memoir Motiba’s Tattoos: A Granddaughter’s Journey from America into her Indian Family’s Past (2000) and the nonfiction book Planet India: The Turbulent Rise of the World’s Largest Democracy and the Future of our World (2008). Her new book, India in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, has just been published. (April 2018)
The latest edition in a running series of dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with updates from around the world, including Verlyn Klinkenborg in East Chatham, Hugh Eakin in Minneapolis–St. Paul, Dalia Hatuqa in Amman, Zoé Samudzi in Windhoek, Ariel Dorfman in Durham, Nathaniel Rich in New Orleans, Christopher Benfey in Amherst, Mira Kamdar in Videlles, Arthur Longworth in Monroe.
Located just north of Paris, the administrative department of Seine-Saint-Denis is France’s poorest and most ethnically diverse. Its Brutalist public housing complexes, once triumphant monuments to socialist modernism, are now sites of social marginalization. It’s the last place one would imagine seeing wandering shepherds tending their flocks. Yet here, and elsewhere in metropolitan Paris, an urban agricultural revolution is taking root. When I walked with the sheep of the Bergers Urbains on their migration to winter quarters in the Parc Georges-Valbon a few weeks ago, a group of young men stopped to take selfies with them, and a shopkeeper called out an offer to buy one for 600 euros (they’re not for sale).
The more people become familiar with what’s really happening on the periphery of Paris—by visiting, eating a meal, going for a hike, listening to a concert, or attending an art opening—the less the populist far-right’s xenophobic fear-mongering machine will be able to exploit the bogeyman of the banlieues. And the more the people who live in the greater Paris area can participate in the invention of their own future as part of “Grand Paris,” the less that future will have to fear from those whom Paris has historically relegated to its periphery.