Category Archives: Places

Arles feels ripples of racial conflict

Story by Ella Slade

While only a 15-minute walk from the city center, the Griffeuille, one of Arles’ three quartiers populaires, resembles an entirely different city. As you approach from downtown, the Roman architecture and tourist-target boutiques fade into clusters of large, uniform housing projects. 

Many people from these housing projects never go to the city center and vice versa, according to Fanny Petit, the coordinator of La Collective, a non-profit association in Arles that provides social and psychological services for women. “It’s like there is a frontier, an invisible frontier.”

One of the housing projects in Griffeuille, a quartier populaire in Arles. Photo by Ella Slade.

Recent events have shined a spotlight on those living in France’s quartiers populaires. On June 27, in Nanterre, a town in the western suburbs of Paris, 17-year-old Nahel M. was fatally shot in the chest by police, for driving off during a traffic check. The recent death of the teenager, who neighbors said was from a family of Algerian origin, triggered rioting and clashes with police around Paris and other communities throughout France.

In Arles, the reality is complex, leaving both urban and suburban communities with conflicting feelings of solidarity and estrangement. While the Griffeuille  may not seem attractive to tourists, it is rich with diversity and home to a close-knit community, said Zachariah Yazidi, a resident of the Griffeuille, who compared himself to a local mail carrier.  “We all know each other, we’re like a big family. 

Quartiers populaires are categorized based on household income, communities where the median income is equal to, or less than, 60% of the national median wage (1,800€/month). The people who live in these communities are two times more likely to be immigrants than the national average and three times more likely to be unemployed, according to the Institut Montaigne. 

A similar, but not interchangeable, term used is banlieue, meaning a set of administratively autonomous neighborhoods that surround an urban center.

Although it is the largest city in France by land area, Arles has a relatively small population of around 50,000 inhabitants. 

While riots broke out even in many small French towns, protesters assembled peacefully June 30 in Arles’ Place de la République.

People gather for a peaceful assembly on June 30 to protest the killing by police of Nahel M. on June 27. Photo by Deni Chamberlin.

Victor Parodi, who lives in Arles and will attend the University of Paul Valery in the fall, said he thinks that since Arles is a fairly small city, it does not host much social activism. 

“You can see right away when you go to the biggest cities like Lyon, Marseille, Paris. This is where there is the most movement, and where there has been the most revolt and break-up,” Parodi said. “For example, I went to Marseille today. The riots were still two weeks ago and there were dozens of stores with the windows that were totally broken, stores that were looted, that were broken, stolen from.”

“It is also not necessarily in small towns where we will see these riots. The purpose of a riot is to see it everywhere, and in small towns people won’t necessarily see them,” said Samuel Lacassin, a recent graduate of Lycée Louis Pasquet in Arles.

The assembly in Arles included three audio broadcasts of testimonies from Nahel’s family, as well as other victims of civil rights violations and police brutality. 

“There were 200 people [present], which is not enormous, but it’s consequential for the city of Arles, and there were 50 to 70 young people who came from the banlieue,” said Camille, an organizer of the assembly in Arles who spoke to The Arles Project on the condition of using a pseudonym. “Normally, in these political activist gatherings, most people are White and from the center of town.”

According to Camille, many who attended the assembly in Arles were social activists who have demonstrated together in the past. 

Throughout the assembly, those in attendance were given time to speak and pose questions to law enforcement officials who were present. 

“They immediately asked simple questions about their feelings,” Camille said. “A young boy, who is 11, talked about racism that he already knows, as he is a victim of racism at this age, which is very young. He asked the policeman, ‘Why do you arrest only Arabic and Black people, and why do you control them?’” 

The officers, who stood on the periphery of the assembly, did not respond. A spokesperson for the Arles bureau of the national police told The Arles Project no one was available to comment by press time. 

A graffito in Arles calls for “Justice for Nahel,” the Nanterre youth killed by a police officer. Photo by Ella Slade.

According to Camille, even a simple gathering in homage to Nahel and to denounce police racism is considered a threat to government officials in France. The problem is not just the racism of individual officers, Camille said. “It’s the laws around it, and how to live with systemic racism in the states and with the police in particular.”

“In places like the banlieue, where they’re not investing a lot of money and energy into making life better for these people, giving them more work opportunities, and giving them more education opportunities, obviously, there’s going to be economic difficulties,” said Sydney Firsching, an Arles-based intern at SOS Racisme, an organization which aims to combat discrimination and promote community cooperation. “All crime is a result of economic difficulties, really, in most cases, in many communities.” 

Police stop teenagers in the Paris banlieue sometimes multiple times per day, she said.

That’s similar to the reality experienced by Cosmo Arnold, who also recently graduated from Lycée Louis Pasquet in Arles.

“Just the difference between how you interact with the police, for example, between the center of town and [the fashionable neighborhood] La Roquette, is two different worlds,” Arnold said. “I mean, they won’t do a thing if you’re in town, [but] they will chase you if you do a single bad thing outside of town, not even that far away.” 

How can the cycle of poverty, over policing and violence end? “I think it [starts] by taking a step back and realizing how abnormal it is to have a police force that’s defending the state and the interests of a few over everyone else,” Arnold said. “And it’s all about not normalizing it. It’s by normalizing it, that it becomes more prevalent.” 

Yazidi agrees. “As I explained to you, we are like a big family, and that’s why France is rising up. If someone killed someone in your family, someone you know, [you] would rise. At some point, people need to shout to be listened to by the government.”

Arles’ Performance Aerie

Story and photos by Louis Denson

Claire Nys, and six of her friends were returning home after leaving multiple parties that they didn’t enjoy on a festival evening in Arles when they happened to pass by L’Aire d’Arles. Inside, they saw people happily dancing. “Two girls dressed in long dresses, like two princesses” especially caught their eyes, says Nys, who recalls excellent rock being played on vinyl. Although they were tired, the group of women stopped to join the fun and dance together.

“We were so happy to have found a place that suited us, by chance, in this remote place, away from other parties,” says the long-time Arles resident. “It was a magical, improbable, very joyful, and pretty moment.”

“It’s a place dedicated to the taste and the image,” says its founder, Jonathan Pierredon. Pierredon utilizes the “e” in L’Aire to imply its relation to an aerie or nest. L’Aire d’Arles is “a home for all the eagles and falcons,” he says. L’Aire d’Arles rises from the hill just above the Arles amphitheater and the Roman theater. 

It’s a place to party, gather, share and discover as on any day of the week, especially during the opening week of the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, there is something different happening on each of the three levels of this restaurant/bar.

There are many venues in Arles to grab a bite or a drink, but none compare to the versatility and diversity that L’Aire provides. Throughout the year, L’Aire d’Arles rotates both its menu and exhibitions. It presents installations of photography and videography from all over the world, music from Brazilian flamenco to Memphis underground vinyl, and food brought to Arles by chefs from Madagascar and Tel Aviv.

As you find the bathroom on the second floor you may come upon an entirely different performance and forget to return to the floor where you started. The sight of the bartenders mixing cocktails welcomes you inside and the aroma of the kitchen floats you upstairs. You can draw on the chalkboard along the stairs, or appreciate the drawings of other patrons.

The second floor is a velveteen lounge space where you can sit and talk as you dissect the everchanging art installations on both the walls and podiums.

And on the third floor, the sound of music and the breeze of fresh air call you to the dance floor and terrace where you can sit back and watch projections on the ancient walls of the city, dance the night away to music, or refresh yourself at the mini-bar.

L’Aire d’Arles welcomes artists and guests of all sorts and styles as all events are free and open to everyone. Pierredon has no criteria for who can share their work. He welcomes all types and techniques of music, art, photography and creation and works them into the venue’s busy schedule.

Arles is not known for its party scene and can be thought of as a small and sleepy town. It can be difficult for amateur artists to have a place to share their works, but L’Aire gives them a platform. L’Aire also invites the students of MoPA, Arles’ prestigious school of animation, to share projections of their films, and it hosts an annual auction for the student work of the National School Supérieure de la Photographie, with an exhibition floor and gavel bidding.

None of this would be possible without the tireless effort and passion of Pierredon and his staff. “Life is full of time, [but] time goes fast,” said Pierredon, sharing his mentality as a business owner, exhibition facilitator and active father.

Pierredon has worked many jobs, including videography for an advertising agency. The time he spent away from his son did not seem justified by pushing a company’s agenda. He wanted that time to have value, reason and passion. In his current work, Pierredon can share his excitement with his son in hopes of instilling verve for community and creation.

He focuses his energy on things that inspire him and that he can look back on and say that he is proud of. “If anything can inspire me, I’m running and jumping.” He loves what he does, the community he can welcome, and values the opportunities the city of Arles has offered him.
The feelings of appreciation are reciprocated by the Arlesian people as well. Pascal Ansell, a musician and language teacher at Arles à lacarte, says, “Jonathan has a very rare and special energy that is exceptional in Arles. He does things for the hell of it; he promotes so many events and wants to support people in what they are already doing. That is so, so precious in the Camargue as there is very, very little of that energy to go around.”