We were in Paris for a Saturday, one-night-stayover Holiday to participate in yet another epic struggle for economic fairness for the dwindling French middle-class with our brothers and sisters of the Gilets Jaunes. (Yellow Jackets) We entered the city, past a two-kilometer snake of spray-painted hieroglyphics of the neo-Visigoths, past the eternal winding grey slabs of highway barriers, sullen glass and steel buildings of business and cold-faced opulent monoliths of Culture Nuevo, and finally exited. We then made a right, then left and suddenly were on a beautiful street of ancient trees and four and five-story buildings of 19th century French classical architecture. This had to be another city from the one we had witnessed only minutes before. It was another universe for certain.
The three-star Hotel Astrid was located some 400 meters down a slopping cobble-stoned street from the famed Arc de Triomphe, one of twelve such boulevards that converge on that venerable monument which was built to honor those lost in the Napoleonic wars and French Revolution. (It’s where the tomb of the unknown soldier from WW1 is also located). We checked in at the small receiving desk where a beetle-browed, efficient and friendly Parisian greeted us. The classical hotel lobby was adorned with refined wood finishing and had filigreed designs along the staircase balustrade. This fine hotel was suffused with the charm of Old Europe.
After check-in, we took seats at an already crowded brasserie terrace on the Champs Ellysée, not far from the Arc de Triomphe. Sipping from tiny cups similar to those suited for a child’s game of let’s play house, we drank our coffees slowly. That came to about a euro per minute, as each cost €3,80. We then observed the yellow movements before us. Groups, swarms and masses of Gilets Jaunes passed by, many in a festive mood, honking horns, carrying signs and loudly regaling all with shouts of Macron Demission!, along with other insulting tirades directed at those in power. Suddenly, a small army of mostly black-attired youths, (some were wearing yellow jackets and many had their mouths covered for potential tear gas), marched past us. These we surmised were the left-wing Black Block hooligans, the European version of ANTIFA. They marched past swiftly, resolutely, likely to confront police further up on the Champs Elysée or to start tossing bricks and firebombs. Amazing that these scoundrels infiltrate without a gesture of protest, all while police are seemingly within walking distance.
We left after an hour and wandered across the Champs Elysée where we encountered a person of partial derangement and a charming and engaging fellow of about 65 years of age who was decked out in a colorful La Grande Armée (18th & 19th century) French military uniform. A photo of this jewel of circumstance is now posted on Facebook. The maniacal denizen, who appeared to be around 45 years old, was shabbily dressed. He was at first kind and friendly, but then quickly showed his flip-side by screaming high-decibel expletives which sounded as if they represented the composite angst of the nation’s economically disenfranchised. Of the two, the former was committed and the latter should have been.
Lieve was interviewed by a television reporter from Abu Dhabi, (capital city of United Arab Emirates). The nervous little guy, as Lieve described him, staged the segment within view of a phalanx of Parisian police on the Champs Elysée. Cool, articulate and passionate as usual before a video camera, she expounded in flawless French on the… “disingenuous RIC – Citizens Initiated Referendum. The French government has rigged the game by allowing Macron to use the referendum as a campaign platform while locking out his adversaries, namely right-wing Marine Le Pen and left-wing Jean Mélenchon, both of whom cannot start campaigning until much later. It is fixed because the questions being asked are not exactly what the Gilets Jaunes would’ve liked. The questions are loaded and are ambiguous and misleading, and guarantee the result that Macron and his bosses desire, so in effect, it’s a fake referendum”. Revved-up now on all cylinders, Lieve continued with “Macron and his filthy-rich bosses and cowering acolytes should all hang by their ankles from the Eifel Tower until the crows peck their eyeballs out! All traitors of the people should do hard-labor at work camps designated for the purpose of re-education to instil attitudes of fairness to the middle-class tax-payers! For the more despicable scoundrels in power, they should all be given a life-sentence to work as counter people at Mc Donald’s! Viva la Revolution! Viva la France! Viva la Gilets Jaunes! Viva la… Excuse me, sir, a call from my father. We’ll have to stop the revolution, as it were, and continue this interview a little later. Dear old dad wants some fresh brioche sent to Belgium, and right away”…*
The piece, with the ending cut, was seen by millions throughout the Persian Gulf, no doubt lighting a fuse of political discontent throughout the vast oil-rich region, even if none had previously existed.
Interview done with, we continued walking at a smart pace along the Champs Elysée towards the River Seine. The weather was sharp, brisk and invigorating. On the other side, we met an energized and loquacious half-Senegalese Gilets Jaunes. His name was Aina and he was hoisting a purple flag with the seal of the House of Bourbon or was it the House of Orleans (?) monarchy stitched on it. This guy is a gamer who hates the left-wing-bastards who are taking control as much as I do. His jacket was emblazoned with numerous hand-lettered slogans of the cause and two hand-made signs hung from the buttons of his coat. He was an encyclopedia of information and warned us not to proceed any further. Less than a kilometer away, left-wing hooligan-anarchists were creating mayhem and thus might be inclined towards physical violence. If only the King and his horse soldiers could come now armed and ready to dispatch those worthless scoundrels!!
While taking a short rest back at the hotel at around three o’clock, we turned on the television. A recent-vintage Porches, with all windows shattered, its paint-finish totaled and with a steel rod of some sort impaling the seats from where the front windshield had been, (as if it were a slain animal) was flashed on the French news channel BFMTV. Inevitably, segments of the Gilets Jaunes movement are hoodlums wearing yellow jackets who are bent on destroying property, while fuelling the fire of anti-Gilets Jaunes sentiment in the media. These thugs target expensive cars to destroy, viewing their owners as the economic oppressors of the lower and middle classes. Or is it that they just like to set fires and break stuff? Or is it that they are paid for breaking stuff? Or is it that they are paid by Macron to sabotage the movement? Or is it that they are needed by the Gilets Jaunes after all? Mister Nice Guy never won anything politically and political movements find very strange friends within and from without. It’s a big pile of ambiguity, but one thing remains clear and unambiguous: The French middle classes are getting financially shafted and they are cornered with nowhere to turn but the streets, even as the candle of liberty flickers weakly in the relentless wind of oppression.
We had dinner at a neat below-sidewalk-level Vietnamese restaurant, half a block off the Champs de Elysée. Friendly, spiffed-out personnel greeted us in the smartly-designed and half-lighted establishment. Across the street, a fabulous 1930’s art deco movie marquee, similar to Harlem’s storied Cotton Club could be seen through the restaurant window. Before our order had arrived, 10 or 12 Gilets Jaunes entered the still mostly empty restaurant. Soon another dozen yellow-hued revolutionaries barrelled in with their rivalrous and half-demented chants of Macron Demission! Within another few minutes, the place was swarming with Macron’s beté noirs, perhaps fifty in total. After three hours of hilarious and invigorating comradery, (philosophy, politics, unadulterated vitriol towards anyone in power were bandied about), and after lavish portions of food and drink were served, we were ready to depart at last. Oh yes, I forgot to explain that the owner of the destroyed Porsche had already paid for everyone! Amazing good fortune, not found in a cookie. Amazing recounting also, because if you believe this particular paragraph, I have a proverbial bridge that I would like to sell you. It’s a hot-steaming deal.
The Champs Elysée was a magnificent panorama at night, and a glittering spectacular array of lights were everywhere. Paris is indeed the City of Lights. Next up was a major commotion taking place about 100 meters from the Arc de Triomphe. Approximately 50 Gilets Jaunes were having a high time of it slow walking across the Champs Elysée, A veritable vaudeville-burlesque show ensued as participants blocked traffic on the eight-lane, car-flooded boulevard. Some were hilariously feigning injury while walking with a pronounced leg-dragging limp. This was a spectacle that Lieve couldn’t refuse and she soon joined in this rollicking demonstration of defiance. After a few crosses and re-crosses, she talked me into participating. I did my bit for the cause with a single round-tripper. We both had to go solo because the noise was tremendous and poor Pepie and Spikey needed to be as far away from the tumult as possible. Our beautiful dogs were heroes for their courage and endurance throughout the day and night of demonstrations.
Returning to the hotel later that evening, we could see the Arc all lit up from our hotel window. We also saw, through the dense and squiggly tree branches that lined both sides of the Avenue Carnot, the lighted windows of the fine mansard-roofed white buildings across the street where opulence, comfort, and pleasure held sway. With its ancient trees and buildings, this street hasn’t really changed in some 140 years. We then spotted a stout and swarthy homeless beggar tucked in for the night on the sidewalk right in front of the hotel. Guilt, sympathy, and empathy were apparently on holiday as well, for none as far as I could determine, including Lieve and me, dropped a penny his way. (Though on countless other occasions in other places, we tossed a coin or two). We were guiltless. Were we heartless also? On Sunday morning before our departure, we had breakfast in a well-fitted buffet room next to the front lobby. We ate quickly because it was then raining heavily and high-wind warnings were issued for regions further north. The coffee was good, as were the cheese pieces and fresh pastries. The corporate pink-colored chemically-bombed yogurt, however, was better ingested with a straw. Ah, for those halcyon days of five years ago when that nutritionally void product could at least be enjoyed with a spoon. That’s it, until our next Gilets Jaunes dee-mow- straa-see-own!