When I think of Paris, I picture the Eiffel Tower, not tower blocks. I see fireworks on the Seine, not firebombs in the streets. So my next trip to the French capital threatens to offer me a very alternative take on the city.
I’ve been asked to accompany my chief executive on a fact-finding mission to Paris.
The kind of facts I’m used to gleaning there are what time the exhibition opens, which vintage is better and whether the lobster is included in the prix fixe menu.
This trip, however, promises to be very different.
If, like me, you work in housing, then you have to accept that a business trip isn’t going to be overly glamorous. We’re due to visit Paris’ largest housing association, which owns or manages some 120,000 homes in and around the capital.
Many of them are likely to be in the suburbs, les banlieues. They can be difficult and dangerous places to live.
In 2005, for instance, the deaths of two boys fleeing the police in Clichy-sous-Bois, to the north-east of the city, led to the worst riots in modern French history. The trouble spread across France over the following three weeks, leaving dozens of buildings damaged and more than 9,000 cars torched.
My chief executive doesn’t speak French, so I’ll be there partly in the role of interpreter. I’ll need to brush up on French housing terms in the meantime. Good thing I already know the term for help!