This is the weekend of the French presidential election, and conservatives have to be disconsolate, seeing the opinion polls predicting a win for the Socialist, Francois Hollande. It might be right, then, to step away from the ardent Francophilia on this blog to take a look at an account written by an American living in Montpellier, which he identifies as “the Rust Belt of France.” Tourists like me and thee wouldn’t likely go there. Excerpts:

We moved here because the university my wife attends offered her the opportunity to teach for a year at the University of Montpellier, situated less than an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean coast. We knew nothing about Montpellier and I spoke very little French, but the idea of spending a year in the south of France was compelling. She would take a break from her graduate studies to teach, I would spend time writing, teaching English, and learning French. We would stroll throughles places by day and drink wine on terraces by night. Our year in France was going to be perfect.

And then we got here. We didn’t know much about the city’s neighborhoods, and during our first week we rented a room in the Figuerolles-Gambetta section, only a few blocks from centre ville. Our dilapidated two-story house sat on a corner and faced an abandoned, graffiti-lined lot on one side and a row of fish mongers and kebab shops on the other. The store signs were all in Arabic, and after sundown there were no women or children on the streets and the men sat outside drinking tea and talking. This wasn’t the France we’d been expecting; it felt like we’d gotten on a train in Paris and stepped off somewhere in Algeria or Tunisia.

More:

This same friend — whose French-born father-in-law doesn’t consider her truly French because her parents emigrated from Algeria in the ’70s — said she was shocked to hear immigrants in New York talk about how they were proud to be Americans and how they loved the United States. No French immigrant would ever say such a thing, she told me, because France does not love them, and so they do not love France.

The center of town is also plagued by an unusually large number of gypsies (who make it their business to harass and scam people for money), homeless, and “crustpunks.” Very far from the Boulevard Saint-Germain, this place is. Important to remember this reality. When I was in Paris recently, a Frenchman warned me not to go to the Abbey St-Denis, which is where High Gothic architecture began under Abbot Suger, and where most of the kings of France are buried. It’s now basically Fort Apache the Bronx, the Frenchman said, sadly, adding later that his country has a lot of problems that are nowhere near being solved.

(Via the Browser)