Friday, October 15, 2010

Strikingly Parisian

You may have heard that the French government has decided to extend the retirement age from 60 to 62 years old and pull pension entitlement from 65 to 67.  You've probably heard that some people aren't happy about this and when the French aren't happy they take to the streets.  A major strike was called for Tuesday and a march or manifestation took place, following a route from Montparnasse to Place de la Bastille.

We had decided to go to a movie in Montparnasse in the late afternoon and thought we'd probably have missed the manif, but no, like so much else in life, it hadn't quite gone off as scheduled.  And so we got to see and hear some of the thousands of marchers.  There are so many unions and organizations I couldn't make any sense of the alphabet soup of initials on the banners, but I liked the one that read "What the parliament does, the street can undo", supported by the Worker's Battle.

Later in the day, after the marchers had passed, I realized that the workers who would be battling with their brothers' trash might not be quite as excited about the battle as the others.

Another issue that has gripped France this fall has been the expulsion of non-French Rom, or gypsies, from France and the destruction of the transient camps that housed many of them.  Mostly people who can't make any kind of a living in their country of origin (many have been deported to Romania) they have come to France to try to do better and wind up begging and sometimes scamming on the streets.

The European Union is furious with France for what it considers racial profiling in the selection of just which non-working non-citizens to force from the country, and in a time when right wing parties are gaining ground in many countries it brings back memories of previous "cleansings".

It's a complicated issue but this poster on one of the bridges expresses one of the positions in the discussion. It says that France, the country that enshrined "les Droits des Hommes", the Rights of Man, after the Revolution, is not the country of "les Droits des Roms", the Rights of Roms.  As an aside, I find it fascinating that even here the French love of puns and wordplay is evident in the replacement of 'Hommes" with "Roms".

Most of the time I wander around seeing Paris through rose-colored glasses and the circumstances of my life here protects me from the less pleasant aspects of life in the city but, like anyplace else, real life can intrude at any moment.

The other day I was sitting at a sidewalk café with a drink, a small dish of olives and a basket of bread on the table in front of me.  An older man, dirty, in ragged clothing, walked by begging and was shooed away by the waiter.  A minute or two later he was back and pointed to the bread on my table.  I gave him a piece.  He pointed to the olives.  He was given one, then grabbed the rest.  Then he grabbed at the bread basket.  It was slightly scary; I got mad and told him to go away. 

A few minutes later this dog came by, stuck her head in my lap, and stared at me patiently for a few minutes.  Finally I gave her a piece of bread and felt terrible for doing it.  I couldn't stop thinking about the old man.  He wasn't small, he wasn't cute, he was a little frightening and a bit aggressive, but he was human and hungry.  I should have given him the bread.


Janey and Co. said...

This was a moving post. When I think of the haves and have nots...I don't think of France. But I guess we have homeless and hungry in every country in the world. My first response would also be "leave me alone"...then I too would realize I was turning away a hungry human....

patrick said...

Having experienced a Parisian Protest, you now qualify as a near-native. I was a little worried about you guys when I saw it on the news, but I should have known you'd take the situation calmly, and with compassion.....

Anonymous said...

It is refreshing to read a post about France that is not all about Ladurée macaroons, I like your take on life.
Do not beat yourself up over the hungry man, you did your best and fear is a survival instinct. I once tried to give a hungry wacko half my pizza and he went nuts on me as he wanted it all, actually pulled out a knife.
That dog on the other hand, patience and good manners should always be rewarded. Great photo.
X David, NYC