Archive for December 8th, 2018

“Paris under siege”: broken glass and plenty of baguettes

Saturday, December 8th, 2018


It is the fourth weekend of protests in Paris. Today, police fired tear gas and water cannon in street battles with activists wearing the “gilets jaunes,” the fluorescent yellow vests that are a hallmark of the new movement to protest rising taxes and the cost of living in France.

Our correspondent

One hundred forty people, including 17 police officers, were injured in the violence and more than 1,400 were taken into custody nationwide after they were found carrying hammers, baseball bats, and metal petanque. Eight thousand police were deployed in Paris to try to quell the unrest. 

Today we have a guest post from an eyewitness: the president of the Paris-based “Ivy Plus European Leaders” think tank, author Maria Adle Besson, who has written a moving account of what it was like today to live in the upscale 16th arrondissement, where some of the worst action took place. (All photos by Maria Adle Besson)

I went out to do some shopping in my quiet residential neighborhood at 5 p.m. Who would wish to invade Avenue Mozart? As I turned into the street, everything started to close and people gathered on both sidewalks near Metro Ranelagh. “Ils arrivent”– “They are here”… “Les Gilets Jaunes sont ici?” “Oui Madame, ne remontez pas l’avenue!” warned a restaurant owner, who recognized me.

The “casseurs” arrive at Carré Blanc

I turned back towards Rue de l’Assomption. A group of sinister-looking youth passed close to me, a cold expression in their eyes; I stared at them. They did not look like the middle-aged provincial gilets jaunes protesters I ran into last week. “Where are they coming from and where are they going?” I wondered. Are they extreme right activists? Is La Maison de la Radio protected? Then I thought, “Are we going to be suspicious of each other in the streets of Paris?” Police cars started arriving, from diverse directions, cheered by shop and restaurant owners. Sirens sounded and policemen came running. They slowed and stopped at the corner of my street, as if blocking it. From afar I heard someone scream, “Fils de Pute, Fils de Pute…” Car doors slammed shut. A mother was rushing with her stroller. Others lingered to thank the police. The smell of burning filled the air. I went inside my home, got rid of my bag, changed into a warmer coat and, as soon as sirens stopped and things seemed to quiet down, I headed out again.

I passed in front a group of banlieusards. A woman was arguing with the rioters: “Why are you breaking everything? Would you like it if people were breaking your home?” A young man screamed back: “Je m’en fous, je vis dans le 78, et je casse chez moi aussi car c’est de la merde chez moi. Vous, vous vivez ici dans le seizième dans un 90m2 [1K square foot apartment]* et vous allez me donner des leçons?” (What is sad is that’s not a large apartment. I would have expected him to say 150 square meters. He may have thinking of the Benalla scandal last summer when on top of all the reproaches, the president was blamed for giving his private security guard the use of a 90-square-meter apartment in Paris… which seemed luxurious for a single security guard.)

Here come the baguettes…

Another woman was standing watch over the boutique “Carré Blanc,” where a window was shattered. “Are you the manager?” I asked. She said, “No, I’m a neighbor; I am just a citizen watching over the property of someone else. I don’t want looters to walk in.” I grimaced. “Wouldn’t they be more interested in alcohol and luxury goods than sheets and towels?” She did not like my comment nor the fact that I was taking a picture. Indeed, I wasn’t the only passerby taking pictures of broken store windows, wrecked cars, out of stupefaction and dismay. Among the picture-takers were also men with gilets jaunes sticking out of their back pockets, as well as uncategorizable youth, wearing black and smirking. Thus, one wondered if the gilets jaunes and the “casseurs” – and several other distinct groups – were taking trophy pictures.

Rue de Passy was lined on one side by a long row of C.R.S. [riot police] vans. On the other side of the street, the big café on the small square, was open. Strangely enough, while the whole neighborhood had shut down, it had all its holiday decorations up and was packed with customers – people were even sitting outside on the heated terrace. Paris will always be Paris, I smiled, relieved. I went in and stood at the bar to have coffee amongst the crowd. Various groups of men were drinking beer and talking. I wondered who they were. Plainclothes  policemen? They had rather smart coats and outfits, but were wearing running shoes… I left the café and continued to walk. A truck stopped in front of me and started unloading big yellow plastic boxes. I startled, was it ammunition? Then from the smell that arose from the boxes and seeing baguettes – it is France – stick out of large bags, I realized that it was “dinner” being brought to the C.R.S. Hungry policemen, nostalgically bleu-black-beur, began to step out of the vans – one wonder-woman officer was overloaded with perhaps 40 kilos of police gear. They headed towards the “food truck.” Another Saturday evening of Paris under siege… Today, one warfront was home.