He was nicknamed “Spider-Man” for his super-human ability to scale a building, but Mamoudou Gassama is subject to the vagaries of Parisian traffic just like the rest of us. I’ve been waiting for him in a West African restaurant in the 14th arrondissement [suburb] for almost 20 minutes when I receive a text message from Mams Yaffa, his translator: a motorcycle protest is blocking the road and they are running late. After weeks of disruption by the yellow vests protesters, minor logistical hiccups have become the norm. To pass the time, I decide to watch, once again, the viral YouTube video that shows how, in some 30 seconds, Gassama became a national hero, saving a small child who was dangling from the fourth-floor balcony of a Parisian apartment block. He swiftly climbed the façade and lifted the four-year-old to safety, while an astonished crowd watched the drama unfold from the street below. Gassama, who comes from the troubled former French colony of Mali, was then one of France’...

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