The calendar says it's May but the weather thinks it's March. A mix of rain, sun, gloom and drizzle alternating every twenty minutes or so means we have to be prepared for anything, the folding umbrella tucked in the same bag as the sunglasses.
Much of Paris is quiet and deserted today, most stores and cafés closed, but the Etoile at the top of the Champs Elysées is absolutely jammed with tourists, as is the broad boulevard itself. Today is a national holiday in France and most other European nations, and many of the citizens of those nations have apparently decided to spend the day in Paris. We hear a lot of Italian spoken, as well as Dutch, German, and various Slavic tongues. There's a dearth of the usual American voices, a reflection, I assume, of the dwindling dollar.
There are lots of kids with their families and lots of school groups as well.
On May 1st it is traditional to buy muguets, lilies of the valley, sold in small bunches on street corners, mostly by foreign vendors as far as I can tell. A tiny bunch sells for about 3 Euros.
This morning we decided to head over to the Champs Elysées and try to see the massive Richard Serra show that is opening at the Grand Palais as part of the 'Monumenta' series of exhibitions there. Last year we saw the fabulous Anselm Keifer show in the same venue, but this year we were too early. I was sure that it opened today but no such luck...it's not until the 7th.
Plan B was the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, whose website seemed to indicate it was open today. Nope.
But the rue de Rivoli at that point was closed off by police and garbage trucks and in the distance, in front of the statue of Joan of Arc at Place des Pyramides, was a mass meeting of some kind, apparently a demonstration, as we could hear loudspeakers and cheering. We knew there was a march today on the usual route between Place de la République and Place de la Nation (May 1st being International Labor Day) but this was something else; we wandered over to look. Boy, was it something else! This was a rally of the Front National, the right-wing neo-fascist party led by Jean-Marie LePen. There's been something of a rise in the European right wing recently, with the recent election of a Fascist mayor of Rome.
Maybe it gave the French party renewed vigor, or maybe they do this on a regular basis, but it was chilling. The right has co-opted Joan of Arc as a nationalist symbol and the speakers stood in front of her shining golden statue with banners waving in the wind.
We left as they started singing la Marseillaise. The skinheads stayed.
On the walk home we saw this woman in the Palais Royal gardens. Much better.