Five days a week, Veronique Nadaud leaves her job at an elementary school library in Paris where the students address her respectfully as "Madam." She walks past graceful buildings and bakery windows filled with tarts and baguettes, and descends into a subway station.
One hour later, she steps off a connecting bus into another France -- the soulless suburban town of Clichy-sous-Bois. A teenage boy shouts obscenities at the sturdy 42-year-old mother of three. She trudges across a lumpy asphalt parking lot toward a row of high-rise concrete rectangles called Woods of the Temple Residence and tugs open the blue metal door of Building 8. The lock is broken, the windows have no glass.
Inside Nadaud's fifth-floor apartment, her 3-year-old daughter, Mael, is hunched over the dining table, drawing fat brown blobs on white paper. The mother leans over Mael's shoulder, wiping wet hands on a dish towel.
"What is that, dear?" she coos.
"It's the boys burning cars," the toddler replies.
The arsons that set off the worst violence in France in four decades started a few blocks from Building 8. After two weeks, the nightly burnings stopped in Clichy-sous-Bois.
Now, the rage of a few angry youths has given way to the smoldering frustration of Veronique Nadaud and countless other residents whose lives straddle the separate and unequal worlds of two Frances: the prosperous, largely white world of the historic city centers and picturesque country villages, and the poor, predominantly black and brown world of heavily immigrant neighborhoods on the fringes of big cities and small towns.
Clichy-sous-Bois, a satellite town of about 28,000 people seven miles from the northeastern edge of Paris, bears little resemblance to the France that most French know.
Eighty percent of the city is considered a "vulnerable urban zone," the government's classification for its poorest communities. One of every three residents lives in government-subsidized housing. Official government figures show that half of all families are immigrants; unofficial estimates place the numbers higher. Most of the immigrants are from sub-Saharan Africa, Algeria, Morocco and Turkey.
The town has no sidewalk cafes or bistros; here the restaurants are a Turkish kebab shop, a McDonald's hamburger restaurant, a coffee shop in a shabby mall and a betting parlor where older men play the horse races and occasionally buy a sandwich.
Women in head scarves pick over sacks of potatoes stacked on a sidewalk next to a meat market with red letters painted on the window in French and Arabic: "Muslim butcher." At a nearby bakery, more shoppers buy cakes of flat bread than crusty French baguettes.
There are no cinemas, no bars or nightclubs, no hospital and no municipal police force; when Clichy-sous-Bois needs law enforcement, police are sent from a neighboring town or from the national riot police squad. The town youth center is a concrete building with peeling gray paint, encircled by a weed-choked yard. The computers that youths are encouraged to use for job hunts were broken on a visit last week.
The official unemployment rate here is 23.5 percent -- more than double the national average. The unofficial rate among men of working age is closer to 40 percent. Most residents who do have jobs work outside Clichy-sous-Bois.
"There is nothing here," said Marc Nadaud, 39, Veronique's unemployed husband, who has been trying for five years to start a business designing urban wear and sports clothing. Veronique is French. Marc was born in Ivory Coast and immigrated to France as a child.
The gymnasium where their 8-year-old son, Seth, took judo classes was burned by arsonists in the first days of the riots. Seth now rides a bus to sessions in another town.
"One summer I bought a rubber swimming pool," said Marc, whose skin is the color of rich chocolate fudge. "I ran a hose down five floors from my kitchen sink and filled it up. Every evening 50 kids would come to swim. Then the old people called the police -- they said we were making too much noise. They took me to the police station. I said, 'I just want to do something for the kids.' "
In the suburbs of Paris, the concrete blocks of housing projects are called residences. The residences here have deceptive names: The Grove, The Forest, The Pointed Oak. Clichy-sous-Bois means Clichy Beneath the Woods. Most of the groves, forests and oaks that once covered Clichy-sous-Bois were hacked down in the 1970s to build the residences for temporary immigrant workers invited into the country to fill the manual-labor jobs the French did not want.
Most of the workers stayed on as permanent residents. As they moved on to more prosperous lives, the housing projects began filling up with new waves of immigrants -- first Arabs, then Africans -- each group poorer than the last in France's stumbling economy.
The Nadauds have lived in their two-bedroom apartment for seven years. A small dining table is jammed against one end of a small living room. To make more space, the dining chairs are kept on the table when the family is not using them. The family pays about $250 a month for their subsidized apartment from Veronique's salary of $1,680.
"I will die before I let my kids spend their life here," her husband said.
But just across the cold fifth-floor vestibule from the Nadauds, a generation of children has known no home other than Building 8.
Mohamed Zeriou, 18, is an earnest teenager with a soft, round face beneath wire-frame glasses. His playground while a youngster was the drab stairwells and the bare foyer of the 13-story building. As a teenager he has found an escape -- the Internet. He spends his afternoons and evenings chatting with other teenagers across France.
His ambition is to become a locksmith. "But it's impossible to get a job," said Zeriou, who has a Moroccan father and French mother. "If I say I live in Clichy-sous-Bois, they won't even call me back."
Like many of the children of Clichy-sous-Bois, he knows the other France on the opposite end of the train line -- the glittering city of Paris -- as a place where he is a perpetual window-shopper in a world he cannot enter.
"I like going to the Champs Elysees, to see the Eiffel Tower," he said. "But I don't go to Paris often -- something like once every two months -- because I'm afraid of getting arrested by the police. If policemen see a lot of young people together, they will think that something wrong is going on and they will arrest us."
The Nadauds are different from many of their neighbors. During a more prosperous period in their marriage, when Marc had a job producing reggae music, they lived in a $1,500-a-month apartment in northern Paris.
Marc found the apartment. He said the landlady agreed to rent it to him, but when he showed up to sign the lease, she apologized, saying her husband had leased it to someone else. The next day Veronique, a white-skinned Frenchwoman, called to inquire, met the landlady and signed the lease.
The next month, Marc said, he forced the landlady to pick up the rent money in person just to see the look on her face when he opened the door.
His music production group fell apart, however, and Marc and his wife landed in Building 8.
Even within Clichy-sous-Bois, however, life is unequal in Marc's eyes.
On a recent afternoon, he parked his car along a street of trim cottages with auburn-tiled roofs. Lace curtains framed the windows. Fat yellow dahlias and pumpkin-orange marigolds filled the gardens.
A woman with peach-colored skin and curly gray hair shouted at him to move his car.
Nadaud pointed toward the wall of shabby concrete blocks that stretch skyward above the tidy enclave on one side of Clichy-sous-Bois.
"The white man got a house, the black man got a flat," he said. "People are frustrated."
He headed back to Building 8.
Two elementary school girls approached him shyly as he entered the building. They were peddling ink pens with furry animal heads at $3.60 apiece to help raise money for a classmate whose family could not afford to send her on the school's annual ski trip. Social groups and the municipality underwrite much of the outing, but each family has to contribute 150 euros -- just over $180, nearly a month's rent for the families of Building 8.
"If you live in misery, you have to have a dream," said Marc, jabbing the elevator button.
Researcher Gretchen Hoff contributed to this report.