The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Just Another Saturday on La Re

Saturday afternoon, Rue de la Republique. The bridge-and-tunnel crowd flood the neighborhood, window-shopping at Cartier and Minelli and FNAC. I'm puttering around the house, trying to find a way to hang a bike rack inside our one closet that's remotely large enough. V is nursing the baby and leafing through guidebooks, planning our next getaway; Boog is engineering train wrecks in his room. Then the distinctive sound of a megaphone cuts through the usual Saturday murmur coming from the street below. I take a look out the living room window.

Someone has just slaughtered an animal on the street.

What. In. The. Hell...?

I grab the binoculars (kept handy for just such occasions, and absolutely not for peeking in neighbors' windows at night) for a closer look. Wait, it's not a real animal--its legs stick straight out, stiff, and something about the head's not right [click photos for a better look].

"Gotta go, hon," I say, grabbing the camera on the way out the door. "Someone's butchering a goat or something on the street in front of Le Hippo."

"Mmmkay. Pick up a baguette while you're out. From the boulangerie by Printemps, not from Les Trois Brioches."

She's seen it all, this one.

Down on the street, I start to get the picture. There's a guy with a megaphone and a sandwich board [pic], and a handful of earnest-looking college kids handing out flyers as one squeezes the last drops of fake blood out of a garbage bag.

The "cow"-- I guess it's supposed to be a cow-- looks much less convincing from street level; just some cardboard boxes cut out and taped together [pics].

I pick an unobtrusive spot on the sidewalk, snap a few photos, and take in the spiel. The guy's argument goes something like this (en Francais):

"The breeding of animals in captivity for consumption is specie-ism [is that even a word in English?]! And specie-ism is just like racism! You wouldn't be racist, would you? Agriculture is torture!"

There are any number of compelling arguments for vegetarianism; this isn't one of them. And for the most part, the people aren't buying it. They step over the fake blood without breaking stride, except for some guys taking the opportunity to chat up the flyer girls (having learned, as I did in college during the Gulf War, that protest girls are easy if you seem righteous enough).

The manager from Le Hippo, a steak-and-burger place, comes out and tells megaphone man to get lost. Megaphone Man asserts his right to protest. Le Hippo agrees but points out that Megaphone Man should maybe exercise his rights somewhere else, like off the end of a short pier, or maybe in his mother's [couldn't translate this particular idiom]. Then les flics show up and ask Megaphone Man for his permit. Turns out he doesn't have one. No permit, no megaphone, the cop tells him. Flyers are OK, though, so long as you clean up this mess. Look, kids are playing in it over there.

So Megaphone Man packs up his megaphone in his shopping cart [pic], kids play in the artificial gore running into the sewer drains [pic], and Le Hippo continues grilling steaks.


Maybe it's the French love of theater, but street protests are very common here. There seems to be a march about every week, typically from Place Bellecour up Rue de la Republique to Hotel de Ville (city hall).

"What's it about this time?" V will ask as I lean out over the balcony and try to make out the banners or make sense of the chants.

A bunch of people in white lab coats. Looks like osteopaths, I'll say.

"Osteopaths? What do they want?"

They're against the relaxation of licensing requirements, I think. Or the Man keeping them down. Or a free Tibet, or something. [pic of march staging area, Place Bellecour]

Do any of these marches or "direct actions" (to use the activist-speak) make any difference? I don't know. The huge nationwide protests against the CPE laws were effective, and the ensuing stink seems to have seriously hurt Chirac and Villepin's party (the center-right UMP) with the presidential elections coming up.

But a lot of these protests seem like empty gestures--a couple hundred people parade around, the cops stand around looking bored [pic; the cop in the middle thinks I'm trouble], traffic gets tied up for a while, and everyone goes home to see if they got their picture in the next morning's Le Progres.

Still, everybody's gotta have a hobby, right?

There was another TCL (Lyon public transit)
strike last week, which shut down the local buses
and streetcars, and reduced the Metro to a skeleton service. The line running to Boog's
school was shut down, and as Boog and I hiked home in the cold rain I confess that I was not feeling particularly hospitable toward the transit workers union, and that they could in fact take their desired pay raise and shove it up their mother's [untranslatable idiom].

Nice that someone has faith in participatory democracy, though.


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