It was a thrill to get off the airport bus right in front of the Arc de Triomphe, even though in the evening a light drizzle turned into a downpour that lasted all night.
By morning, the rain had cleared. But our temporary neighborhood was rapidly turning into a battle scene and we wondered whether to even leave our room. We could see on TV what was happening a block away.
“Les Gilets Jaunes” are the yellow vests all French drivers have to keep in their vehicles and wear in case of breakdown. For a couple of weeks, protesters have worn them while trying to get the government to reverse high taxes on fuel. Now it seems the protests have turned against President Macron and his policies.
Quite a few people believe he cares only about rich people, and a small number of people get richer while the poor get poorer. (Americans, can you imagine that?) Macron’s administration raised fuel taxes, which impact people who have to drive to work. I don’t understand the details, but apparently they also eliminated a “wealth” tax.
Of course France has a long history of protest. On July 14, 1789 the French Revolution began in earnest with the storming of the Bastille prison.
The current grass-roots movement seems to have no real leaders. Will it grow or die out? Nobody knows yet. The demonstrations this week were smaller than the week before, but there are protests all over the country. About 5000 to 8000 people gathered on the Champs Elysees for a peaceful “manifestation,” but these things do tend to get out of control. We watched it all unfold from the safety of our room. All the TV stations were in French, but there was constant live video.
There seemed to be a lull in early afternoon, so we ventured out. Metro stations in our neighborhood were closed, so we walked–away from the “manifestations.” It looked like the protesters had called a general coffee break. The people above had spread out their clothes to dry on a heat grate on the sidewalk. They had been sprayed with water cannons. There was a lot of tear gas in the air, too, although we never got near enough to actually feel its effects.
Protesters had been busy piling up materials for bonfires–which firefighters put out all day. Could we climb the Arc de Triomphe to get an overview? No way.
Just a block off the Champs Elysees, everything seemed normal except for less traffic. But all day long and into the evening, we could see pillars of smoke. Police helicopters hovered above.
We walked along the Seine, where life was going on as usual.
We made a quick stop at the Palais de Tokyo for the modern art. Then we made our way to the Orsay to see the current Picasso exhibit.
Picasso was astounding as always. Was there anything the man couldn’t do? That’s an early self-portrait.
I love his Child with Pigeon, 1901. We have museum passes, so we pop in and out of the great-but-exhausting museums of Paris.
After catching dinner, we started walking back home for the night, and came upon a Christmas market in the Tuileries.
By 9:30 pm, the demonstrators had all gone home, but the Metro we would have taken was closed and police had the whole area cordoned off for cleanup. The police were friendly and as helpful as they could be in the situation.
We gave up on walking and took a taxi because we had to circle way around the protest area.
I asked Santa for a more peaceful day tomorrow. But after all, protest is part of the French history I came to see.
The next day: it was interesting to read press coverage from outlets such as the Daily Mail
Even after my high school and college French, and obsessively studying on Duolingo daily for six months, my French leaves a lot to be desired. I’m lucky to catch about one out of every four or five words on French TV news. The images pretty much speak for themselves, though.