Garbage Strikes


Trigger Warning. Not to be on some 'Let Them Eat Cake' bullshit but I'm about to be on my 'Let Them Eat Cake' bullshit.

I don’t use the metro, and I no longer wander the neighborhoods of Paris so I don’t know what’s happening outside of my bubble. When I was at dinner last week there was talk about the strikes, but we didn’t use the metro so we just shrugged it off. “That’s Paris”. 

Strikes are normal. Everyone who has lived in Paris knows. In 2020 the metro was closed for like a month (right before Covid). If you lived here in 2016? That was probably the worst of it in my Paris history. The World Cup or the Championships were in town and those garbage workers said “fuck ya’ll, we’re going to make you look bad” and others did the same. At the time I lived at the bottom of Luxembourg and everyday boulevard Montparnasse was shut down for protests (manifestations). I stopped paying attention to who was protesting each day but it usually involves CGT

The city drove in huge barricades on wheels (over 12ft) like everyday at 2pm and set them up on Avenue de l’Observatoire, where the 6th and the 5th turn into the 14th at Port Royale. The Gendarme lived on boulevard Montparnasse. It was constant. It wasn't nearly as destructive as Gilets Jeunes but one particular day was so bad they smashed all of the windows on the boulevard Montparnasse and burned down an LCL. That corner of Raspail was barren for like a year.

One thing I learned during that time? Certain neighborhoods are unaffected. The road to Invalides, where the Ministre Outre Mer is, got trashed one particular day. The area was deathly quiet after those protests. Wet from the water cannons, no cars were allowed. It was like the protestors had violated some unwritten law. Since then I’ve noticed they’ve not let protests happen in this area. 

But back to 2016, when I learned that no matter how socialist Paris is, there are still the haves and have nots. Observatoire is a really beautiful street. I don't give Paris many compliments but the horse fountain in the summer is stunning. If you stand at one particular spot on the road outside Jardin Marco Polo all of the statues line up in such a way that it points to Luxembourg Palace with Sacre Couer looming above. 

It is also a border street. It turns into, but also runs parallel, to boulevard Saint Michel, and avenue Georges Bernanos at weird angles, so despite my front door opening to it, I never knew which of the three roads in front of my building were considered which. One side of Saint Michel is the 6th and one side is the 5th. I lived on the 6th side of the street so when I walked on my side there was no trash. Garbage men came every night. But if you crossed the street? Piles and piles and dead rats. 

From 2015-2018 I worked in Gros Caillou in the 7th, and lived there from 2016-2018. The area was in constant turmoil between strikes, the World Cup, the Champions League, and whatever period Macron and Fillon were in contention for the Presidency. Both of them lived in Gros Caillou (Macron on the ugly end of rue Cler and Fillion on square la Tour Maubourg, which is not a square), and it was chaos. But guess who always had trash pick up every night despite?  

Which brings us to today. News of trash is everywhere. Photos of what looks like New York City is actually Paris. Last week was Fashion Week so they chose the right time to embarrass the city. But let’s be real, those celebs are not treking to Bercy. They’re staying in idolized Paris, where this stuff doesn’t happen. 

For now my neighborhood is unaffected. Again. The trash men come right on time, every night between 7 and 8. I have since learned that we have Rachida Dati to thank for that. She has been Mairie of the 7th since 2008, and was politicking during those infamous 2016 strikes as well. 

It turns out that Paris does not operate how I thought. I always assumed the Propreté ran and operated all of Paris (the 75, the 20 districts). Turns out that’s not how it works. 

Thanks to Kitty Schrödinger on Twitter I learned of Rachida Dati. Cursory glance shows she serves looks, we stan, and worked under Sarkozy (do not stan). I looked at her tweets and learned she really hates Hidalgo (who doesn’t) and that she has vowed that she will always ensure the streets are clean even during strikes. That’s because the 7th is run by a private company called Derichbourg

I really thought it was a government conspiracy because the 7th is home to some of the wealthiest people in Paris; the L’Oreal heir, the Louis Vuitton heir, the Estée Lauder heiress, those two old ladies who own that empty building near Champs de Mars, and the Qatar owned property on Quai d’Orsay which is an entire palace with a basketball hoop in the driveway. Money influences power, but perhaps not entirely in this case. Derichbourg is operating in the 1st, 4th, 3rd, 10th, and 18th, in addition to the 7th. 

I know there are some pretty disgusting pockets of Paris (members of my women’s group are posting wild photos of particularly bad streets). But now I know a little more about the individual politics. Some districts are serviced by public workers, and some are serviced by private companies. 

As I type this story the street cleaners are currently doing their daily cleanings outside my window. I’m still not sure how the Mairies are able to work independently of the city of Paris, but I’ll keep learning. I'm going to dig in a bit more into the politics of my area and the people who run it, but thanks Rachida Dati. The 7th stays proving why it is the best place to live. 

*Not originally published here.