STRIKES, SOCCER, STRESS and the SEINE
This post started with a phone call from Radio Sputnik in Moscow. In case you didn’t know – I didn’t – Radio Sputnik in 2014 replaced the Voice of Russia. They don’t seem to have a Paris correspondent and, as I’m a former journalist and an author who has written extensively about the French and French life, they call me from time to time for comments on big stories. I’m always happy to help – and of course there’s always a lot to say.
First, there were the terrorist attacks in Paris, in January 2015, then in November 2015. One at the beginning of the year, one as the year was drawing to an end. The first aimed at Charlie Hebdo and its cartoonists and journalists for their mockery of Islam. The second was a spree, targeting first a soccer match attended by French President François Hollande, secondly, innocents enjoying a balmy Fall evening on the terraces of cafés, and lastly, music-lovers gathered at the Bataclan concert hall.
Both attacks were terrifying and horrific and for a time, the French united in sorrow and solidarity.
But it was only a brief pause and little by little “real” life came back with a vengeance. People put terrorism in the back of their minds (although almost everyone on the metro subconsciously looks around for suspicious packages or suspicious behavior). Dissatisfaction with the Hollande government recently came to a head over a proposed labor reform which was rejected by the unions and Hollande’s own constituents. Hollande, they say, no longer represents the left. They took to the streets, camped out at the Place de la Republique, and in true French fashion went on strike.
The strikes though – metro, trains, garbage and probably a few I’ve forgotten – turned ugly with hooligans and leftist extremists violently smashing shop windows and attacking the police. Protestors, led by the Communist trade union, blocked the oil refineries and soon gas stations had little to no gas. People had a hard time getting to work and businesses lost contracts and money.
To add to the stress, May was a depressing, sun-deprived, rainy month – so rainy that the Seine rose to 6 meters, the highest in 30 years. In Paris, both the Orsay Museum and the Louvre closed their doors while workers scrambled to move artworks to higher floors. Outside Paris, damage was considerable and grave, leaving many people homeless and some of the great museums and castles endangered. The emblematic Chateau de Chambord, a Unesco World Heritage site, is surrounded by water.
As I write this, the sun is out for the first time in days. The level of the Seine will lower. As for the strikes, who knows? They are an inevitable, and fatiguing, feature of French life.
The Euro 2016 will start on June 10. Terrorism experts are on the alert, for how can you control “fan zones” where thousands of people are milling? Stress again!
A somber picture? No, real life. The one that we had to get back to after the January and November tragedies. They haven’t been forgotten and shouldn’t be. Floods will happen, unpopular government measures will always occur, and terrorism shouldn’t be a fatality.
All this being said, I simply hope the sun will continue to shine, the level of the waters will decrease, the strikes will stop (they will – summer vacation is right around the corner and I have NEVER seen anyone in this country strike in summer…), and terrorism will be eradicated. Wishful thinking perhaps, but pourquoi pas? One can always dream of a better world.