Protests in Paris
Soundtrack: "Lady Marmelade" from Moulin Rouge
Somehow I just managed to wind up in two street protests while in Paris, without even trying to get into them. The first came when I went up with my Canadian mate Nick to Montmartre to see Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge. Sacre Coeur, with it's sugar white dome and nice little park was impressive (though the scam artists were out in force, trying to tie little ribbons around people's wrists for ten euro apiece), even though I was mostly going there because I'd seen it in the film "Amelie." It has become my habit to try to go see cool worthwhile things for all the wrong reasons.
The Moulin Rouge was rather unimpressive, though I suppose it might have been more worthwhile had I gone in to see the nearly nude dancers, but I couldn't be bothered actually paying for it. But while I was jockeying for a decent picture of the Moulin Rouge, trying to avoid getting a tour bus in the picture, this massive street protest went through.
Okay, so "massive street protest went through" makes it sound like it just quickly passed by and surprised me. In reality, I heard it coming for about five minutes before it arrived, and decided to wait to see what was going on. The protest was mostly in support of those "sans papiers." Illegal immigrants who don't have any papers to allow them to work. Perhaps I would be able to tell more if I could actually speak French, but that's pretty much a lost cause.
Like everything else in France at the time, the march was tinged by the threat of the FN, the nationalist right-wing party that was headed by a guy named "Le Pen." When I first heard the name "Le Pen" I thought it was "Lepin", which happens to be one of those French words I know. It means "rabbit." Unfortunately, Le Pen is more of an ass than a rabbit. He is fiercely right-wing in that oh-so-fashionable way that policians seem to be these days. His principle doctrine is that foreigners are stealing French jobs and French property (and probably are raping their women as well), and should be kicked out of the country. Oh, and France should be taken out of the E.U. as well, along with probably trying to get the Alsac-Lorraine back from Germany is next on his list (they have it, but Le Pen seems to be stuck somewhere around the end of the Franco-Prussian War, rather than the beginning of the 21st Century).
So this Saturday rally was part anti-Le Pen and part pro-immigrants, along with some support by everyone from the Palestinians and the Parisian gay community.
As it was Nick's last day in Paris, we didn't bother to actually stay around and watch the protest. I got my picture of tour buses in front of the Moulin Rouge, and we went on to have cheap shoddy pizza in a park in the rain.
I didn't have any such problems the next day. Sunday was a beautiful day to be in Paris. There were occasional clouds to keep the temperature down, but no rain to darken our day. I went to the Centre Pompidou to see their surrealism exhibit, and wound up walking around the Right Bank in the afternoon, looking for a place to find falafel. Instead, I happened on a series of streets that were blocked off and watched over by cops. I had read about a weekly event where some main streets in Paris were blocked off and thousands of people go rollerblading, something I wanted pictures of.
I wasn't prepared for what I found. I wound up in the middle of a massive rally, not so much against Le Pen and the FN this time, but a pro-Palestine, anti-Israel, and incidentally anti-American rally. So I took out my notebook and my camera, and what follows are my notes, verbatim and live (as live as writing can be), from the event.
Hmmm. Why can no one do a swastika properly? Nearly every third sign has something equating the Israelis with Nazis (a very un-politically correct, but nevertheless, striking and not entirely inaccurate thing to do right now), such as [Star of David] = [Swastika]. Unfortunately, over two-thirds of them have the swastika backwards. And, the backwards swastika is a goodluck symbol in some fairly major religion. I think it's the Sikhs, but I'm not sure. Anyway, this is just my way of saying I'm in the middle of a pro-Palestine, anti-Sharon rally that could turn quite ugly at any moment.
Very ugly, judging by all the fully loaded riot police that I had to walk through to get here. I should have paid attention to the riot police...that probably should have been my first indication that this was NOT going to be a group of roller-bladers farting around.
Not that I wouldn't have come f I'd known what it was. In fact, I probably would have come even more quickly. I mean, I can go back to the Centre Pompidou later, and who really gives a shit about roller-blading in the first place.
I rather wish I could speak French right now.
"Bush! Sharon! Assassin!" Over and over again. Took me awhile to figure out, but it's what half the people are screaming right now.
And I just realized I have no idea where to run to if everything goes pear shaped, as it seems more and more capable of doing every minute. Shit, I can't even understand what people are saying. How will I know if everything goes bad? Well, I suppose the tear gas and truncheons might be a good indication.
Oh shit. This is getting more and more anti-American as I write. And I just realized I have a big American flag on my backpack.
The unpredictable element is the kids. A bunch of schoolkids keep running all over the place, shouting things, bouncing from place to place. Trying to get past the end of the march. The end of the parade is made up of three lines of the burliest Arab men I've seen, walking arm in arm, obviously meant to keep both people from the march attacking the cops, and vice versa. Keeping the crowd in and out. The police now have their faceplates on their helmets down. Riot shields are out, no truncheons ready though.
The end of the march has stopped. The kids are all over the place. People are streaming back to try to keep them from acting stupidly.
And they succeeded. Thank christ. A group of people carrying Parti Communiste Marxiste-Leniniste placards came and started moving them forward. Kids defused, for now.
Oh shit, the kids moved up into the center of the rally, where there are no cops. For some reason, they've latched onto the only American symbol they can find, and are trying to smash a McDonalds. Rocks are thrown, and two windows spiderweb, but don't smash completely. Three Arab adults get in the way, and a manager at the McDs closes the shutter. Jesus. The kids are pushed away, and continue on.
And now we're at the end of the march, meeting at the Opera Garnier, next to the Metro stop the 4 Sept., which commemorates the beginning of the Paris Commune, an 1871 effort to take over Paris in the name of liberty that was viciously smashed. The Opera Garnier is a massive Second Republic building of marble and gold, where around 2,000 people are gathered for their political rally. There are six streets that converge on the Place Garnier, and every single one of them is blocked by a row of two dozen police officers in full riot gear, backed up by a half dozen bored looking officers carrying tear gas grenade launchers ready to go in a moment's notice. People who are bored with artillery make me nervous.
As I can't understand anything that's going on at the rally anymore, and the dissident element seems to have calmed down, I decide to leave and enjoy my last two days in beautiful Paris.
BACK TO EUROPE
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