Whereas Paris is a city to be discovered on foot, Neuilly is the kingdom of the car. A four-lane artery cuts through the southern side of the town, with the rest being criss-crossed with other wide and busy thoroughfares. More disturbing than that though is the distance between the pavements and the houses and apartment blocks in the town, meaning that as a pedestrian you feel cut off from all human contact.
Walking along these leafy but deathly quiet streets, you can't help feeling a little paranoid. Behind their curtains in their dwellings, residents can follow your steps, but they themselves remain frustratingly invisible to you. It is a place with little interaction and with a heart that is seemingly well hidden away.
Around the town hall though, there is a semblance of a community. Naturally, this is based almost primarily around commercial outlets, but amongst the upmarket designer chainstores (which are often curiously empty) there are a few that show a little more soul. It is a town which caters principally for wealthy lawyers or television executives who spend their income mainly in the numerous smart but slightly banal restaurants, but turn a couple of corners and it is still possible to find a population looking for a bargain.
This is visible mostly in the indoor market, a 1960s vintage with pleasingly chaotic colour clashes and a space where it is still possible to rub shoulders with other inhabitants. Stall holders cry out the offers of the day, and retro haberdashery stands show that there are still residents who choose to repair clothes rather than just buy new ones.
Another curiosity of the town is the silence of the walls. Across Paris, they sing with messages, through posters, art, graffiti or tags, but in Neuilly they are clean and mute. Buildings are flawless and unsullied, showing off little of their lived history, but it is possible to find some forgotten courtyards where life seems to have found shelter.
The scruffiness of these doors and shutters is proof that they have served a purpose. It is comforting to find such things here that have not been torn down and replaced with newer models.
Even more comforting are the traces of cheap and cheerful design. In a universe of classical bourgeois conservatism, how refreshing to see a really bad pun (but one that is also slightly subversive in this Catholic environment) and a selection of kitsch bargains! It might be a descent into hell, but it looks like a place where life may be found.