US & Canada

Living in the shadow of the 'Strauss-Kahn circus'

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Media captionThe arrival of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has transformed Franklin Street, Michael Maher found.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's move into a relatively quiet street in lower Manhattan was a lot like the circus coming to town, as one of his neighbours, New York journalist Michael Maher, discovered recently.

The former IMF chief, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel chambermaid, has taken up residence directly across the road from me on Franklin Street in New York's TriBeCa district.

With him has come not a troupe of harlequins, trapeze artists and lion tamers but a just-as-colourful collection of retainers, sightseers and journalists. All that is missing is a circus barker: "Step right up! Step right up! The most sensational show in town! Sex, power, and a monumental fall from the big top. See it all at Le Cirque DSK!"

''Huge, huge and huge'' is how Maryse Burgot of French National Public Television describes the spectacle.

Ms Burgot, along with scores of her French colleagues, have been camped outside the entrance to my apartment building, eyes trained on the handsome $50,000 (£30,902) a month townhouse Mr Strauss-Kahn is renting while he awaits his day in court.

Refuge

The neighbours have not exactly rolled out the welcome mat.

Home-made signs soon appeared warning reporters to stay off private property. One resident told me he was having great trouble restraining his Scottish terrier from lifting a leg on the TV gear lying on the footpath.

However, as a fellow toiler in the news game I'm not about to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. After all, it is seldom that a story of this magnitude is delivered to one's front doorstep.

In fact, it is entirely fitting that after being turned away from other locations in Manhattan, Mr Strauss-Kahn should have found refuge on Franklin Street.

The street is named after America's greatest Francophile, Benjamin Franklin, who was the first US ambassador to France and who recommended George Washington take on the French aristocrat Gen Lafayette as his aide-de-camp in the revolutionary war against the British.

Honouring the general's service, Lafayette Street lies a mere four blocks away. That soaring symbol of Franco-American fraternity - La Liberte eclairant le monde (also known as The Statue of Liberty) can be seen from the water's edge another short stroll away.

Hostile territory

Not that Mr Strauss-Kahn is permitted much strolling. For the most part, his bail conditions keep him confined indoors. On the few occasions he has ventured out a fusillade of camera flashes is fired his way.

Image caption No welcome mat for this lot: Some neighbours have laid "private property" signs to keep back journalists

However the house the New York Post has dubbed Chez Perv - despite the fact that Mr Strauss-Kahn has not been convicted of any crime - is equipped with a few distractions: a home cinema, a gym and a bar.

My Pakistani wine merchant at the end of the street jokes that he is doing a brisk trade in Chateau Lafite, and the surrounding restaurants seem to be getting plenty of take-out business as well.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this affair is the number of French tourists who come by each day to spend half an hour or so outside the house taking photographs and discussing the plight of their compatriot. Sometimes, their presence appears to be a symbol of quiet solidarity with a countryman caught in hostile territory.

Others engage in passionate debate, speculating about all manner of conspiracies which might have brought down this colossus of French public life.

House warming

And then there are those who just look plain shocked, left like most of us to wonder about what may have led the new tenant at 153 Franklin Street into such a mess.

Image caption Mr Strauss-Kahn's bail conditions permit him little opportunity for strolling

Over the coming months there will be plenty of time for more snapshots, debate and conjecture. Le Cirque DSK is destined for a long run.

Media attention will wax and wane in accordance with Mr Strauss-Kahn's public appearances but for those of us who are his new neighbours there will be no respite.

I guess a house-warming is out of the question, but perhaps one day soon he'll lift the window blinds that are now permanently drawn.

Maybe he'll venture out on to his roof deck to enjoy the evening breeze. A leisurely walk along TriBeCa's cobblestone streets? Pourquoi pas?

But what I would really like Mr Strauss-Kahn to do is to answer some of the questions my young son keeps peppering me with about the commotion going on in his hitherto quiet - for New York - street. Try explaining all this to a seven year-old.

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