And yet. Life goes on. It is a major upheaval, and travelers' plans cannot be 100% certain. The disruption of daily life certainly can't be underestimated. But it is unclear to me whether any of the limited violent activity at the schools originates with the students or with others who are simply hell-bent on joining in any protests: les casseurs.
One thing is for sure. Business people -- heck, everyday people -- are being inconvenienced. But, honestly, police barricades are a norm of Paris life, for whatever reason. So, c'mon, folks: this ain't French Armageddon.
In Paris, the RATP forecasts normal service. The SNCF and the airports have traffic reduced by about 25%. There are potential gasoline shortages, etc. Annoyance, yes. Inconvenience, yes. Life goes on anyway, yes.
2. Concerned about some alarming news reports yesterday, I called my daughter, who is working as a language assistant in a lycée in Provence. "How's it going?" I asked, unnerved. No big news -- she mostly detailed her efforts to get internet service at her shared apartment inside the lycée. Bureaucracy and telecommunications woes. The regular. "But -- how about the protests?" I pressed.
"Yeah, there were some blockades last week -- they blocked the entrance to the school with dumpsters. And it's been weird, with I-don't-know-who setting off Molotov cocktails sometimes. Bizarre. Oh gawd, there's one exploding now. Well, Mom, I gotta run -- have to make a presentation for my class."
To me, this says it all. Protests are happening. Noise is happening. Noise. Sure, things aren't as smooth as might be hoped, but life goes on. Work goes on. Classes to attend. Dinners to prepare. Vernissages, movies, activities to enjoy. Everyone makes do. But that angle doesn't make headline news, does it?
3. This all reminded me of my arrival in Paris in 2006. There were protests then, too. This blog was only a twinkle in my eye at the time, but here is the missive I wrote about those supposed "riots" which led me to create this here blog:
April 1, 2006-- Last night I was dining at the Cafe de la Paix (how ironic), when suddenly dozens of police squads showed up, flashing blue lights, guys with helmets and plastic shields. No, they weren't there to take me away(!), but instead to barricade the boulevard des Capucines so that the soon-to-be arriving protesters could march down the street. It was about 10:30 or 11 pm, so fortunately we were through dining. Because of the manif (protest), my dinner companion was not able to take a cab back to Ile St. Louis, and so -- horrors!-- had to take the metro.I remember distinctly at the time receiving worried emails from family and friends asking if I was all right, if I was safe. The media was reporting calamitous activity! I couldn't afford to actually laugh at their worries, but tried nevertheless to reassure them that life in France did not equal what they saw or read in the news.
The gendarmes wouldn't let me enter the street there at place de l'Opera (silly -- so I just walked around the corner and got in that way). And then I strolled home happily down the center of a very quiet boulevard with no traffic.)
Then I got back to my cozy pied a terre and kicked off my high heels. About five minutes later I heard the approaching crowds chanting and shouting. Peering out my kitchen window, I saw the throngs marching down boulevard de la Madeleine, filling a whole city block or two (or more?) streaming past my front door at place de la Madeleine. The feeling was one of momentum and energy and not at all of anger or fear. They were waving banners and shouting as they headed around the corner to the Elysee Palace. I would have gone down to the street to watch, but actually had a better view from my lofty perch. Mostly I didn't budge from the fear that, if I left my 7th floor apartment, by the time I got to street level the action might have all passed me by. It felt like being part of a Victor Hugo script. Huge adrenaline rush!
(Anway, the most angry mob of Parisians I've seen all week was the thousands of cars backed up at place de la Madeleine at rush hour on Wednesday... because the cops blocked the roads for -- ta-dah! -- Condoleeza Rice to get to the Elysee Palace for her nanosecond visit with Chirac. You've never heard such klaxons, such muttering later in the supermarches ("Yeah, I hear she even traveled from the airport in an American car..." "I bet it was 'super-blindee' [armored vehicle] -- she'll need it after making everyone so pissed...")
I bet somehow the American press didn't pick up on THAT little Parisian police barricade!)
4. Not currently in France, I don't have eyewitness observations about the reform protests and their ramifications. But I do check my Facebook page, check status of my friends in France, skype with them. Most are at max griping about transportation, either slow-downs in public transport, lines at the gas station, or worries about being able to leave on vacation as scheduled. Hmmm, not exactly what I would call The End of Life as We Know It.
School vacations for la Toussaint in France begin this Friday. I'm waiting to see how that affects the protest activity.