BEYOND the Paris the world knows —resplendent Boulevards and leafy esplanades, elegant restaurants and sunny sidewalk cafes—lies a ring of small communities with names like Aubervilliers and St. Ouen, Boulogne-Billancourt and St. Denis. No soaring monuments to Western civilization grace their drab and grimy streets. Instead, the stigmata of the worst of the 20th century abound: the sprawl of brick factories, the grey, faceless slabs of low-income housing projects. All day big diesel trucks thunder up and down belching fumes, their oversize tires slapping the ancient cobblestones. This is the Red Belt of...

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