The Frogmarch

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

Monday, May 07, 2007

Now You're Cooking With (Tear) Gas!

Sunday, as you know, was election day here in France--a great idea, by the way, having elections on a day when pretty much everything is closed, so that people have nothing else to do but vote. It was a plain ol' Sunday for us; I did some stuff around the house, then in the afternoon took the boys out for a walk. The Jardins de Chartreuse, the grounds of a monastery that once stood on the Croix-Rousse plateau overlooking the Saone and Vieux Lyon, were peaceful and green, and Boog played in the mud in the small playground while Tater sat in my lap and tried repeatedly to jam his thumb up my nose.

Later, after we'd given the boys their baths and packed them off to bed, I was making a late dinner and V. was on the computer checking out the election results. Exit polls showed pretty much what the polls had been saying all along--a relatively close but still very much forseen Sarkozy win. "Don't leave your car parked on the street in Clichy tonight," V commented.

What can only be described as a ruckus brought me from the kitchen again a few minutes later, the kind of shouting and chanting that is fairly common this close to Place Bellecour. Looking out, I saw about 200 people raggedly marching, circling the fountain at Place de la Republique before heading north toward the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). There were a handful of signs, and chants of "Sarko! Facho!" (fascist). Some were tossing garbage cans into the fountain...why do they always take it out on the trash cans? The mob headed up the street out of sight, accompanied by the sound of approaching sirens, and I went back to my chicken and rice burritos, which are a little strange when you have to use emmental and gouda instead of pepper jack.

Later, shouts from below--too tough to make them out. The street was oddly deserted, and I stepped out onto the balcony for a better look. Heavy smoke hung over the street, and I leaned out to look toward Place Bellecour, where the smoke seemed to be coming from.

Ooh, that was a mistake. Suddenly I couldn't breathe, and my tear ducts spontaneously ejected tears down my face. I reeled back into the bedroom and slammed the door behind, coughing furiously, hoping none of the gas had entered with me. I had just been tear-gassed in the privacy of my own home. I recovered fairly quickly, and it became apparent why tear gas is so effective--it makes you immediately want to get the hell away. Which explains the deserted street.

So I didn't take any pictures of the post-election unrest for y'all to look at. The rest of the night we kept the windows firmly closed, and there wasn't much to look at anyway. There was plenty of shouting through the wee hours, though, plus trash can pyromania, car alarms and store alarms, and the occasional unexplained loud crash.

We watched some of the news coverage on TV, and it was interesting to contrast what has happening on our screen--Sarkozy followers celebrating in Place de la Concorde, Sarko's motorcade zipping through Paris, waving, shaking hands--with what was going on outside our windows.

This morning, the street cleaners were at work at 6 just like every day, with little evidence of the night's disturbances. There were scattered burn marks on the sidewalk and the occasional puddle of melted garbage, and a big pile of broken beer-bottle glass in the gutter at the edge of Place Bellecour, along with burned flares and what may have been spent tear gas cannisters.

This morning's paper reports that a large group of youths had crashed a party for Sarkozy supporters aboard a floating nightclub moored in the Rhone, throwing bottles and debris down onto the deck from Pont Wilson (a block from us; this would have been the group I saw first); cops broke this up using Flashballs (which I had to look up; rubber bullets, more or less). Police later clashed with protesters in Place Bellecour, finally using tear gas to disperse them. Hey, we made CNN!

"There are some tensions," the police spokesperson said. "All was quiet on the western front," he failed to add.

I don't know if the Sarkozy administration will be good or bad for France in the long term, but I do know that it looks to be a productive quarter for Karcher.

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