Tuesday, December 17, Day 13 of the strike and day of a huge manifestation that has already started. The strikers, who are marching from the Place de la Republique to Nation, are lucky: for the moment the sun is shining, the sky is grey, there’s no rain.
I am sitting here in the office of my apartment on the rue Stendhal (named after the famous nineteenth century French writer). My French doors (yes, French doors!) look out upon our private Jardin. It is green and quiet. Birds flutter their wings above and around the feeder my husband has hung on our fig tree. Neighbour cats stroll across our terrace and lawn as if they own it (they like to scamper across the grass but are mostly interested in capturing one of those nice birds for their dinner).
Sitting here, you would never even imagine the total chaos in the streets of Paris. When I leave our building, though, the smell of pollution assails my poor nose and throat. It’s so thick you feel you could cut into it the way you would a nice Camembert. Cars honk, bikes and scooters slalom past me on the narrow sidewalk. The other day my husband barely escaped being knocked down by a cyclist who appeared from behind a truck going the wrong way. After thirteen days of strikes and transportation problems, the Parisians, already high-strung by nature, are getting nervous. Very nervous.
I take my afternoon walk, cutting through the Pere Lachaise cemetery at the top entrance to end up “below” on the rue de la Roquette leading to the Bastille. There’s a strange atmosphere. Hardly any cars, not that many people. I wonder how this can be when thousands are demonstrating not far away. Then I understand: many streets have been cordoned off. Many people have decided to stay home. I continue for a while, do some errands, then return home via the cemetery again. I have always liked Pere Lachaise, for its tall trees, its cobblestones, its sculptures and monuments and its history but today I love it for the good reason that no bike, no car, no scooter can penetrate without getting shouted at and booted out by one of the ever vigilant and not so friendly guards. Within the confines of the cemetery, as in my nearby apartment, peace and quiet reign.
I return home and have a wide awake dream. In the dream, I live in a country rather like Finland or Denmark or Sweden where Presidents don’t consider themselves Kings and where citizens and their demands are taken seriously. In these countries, when there’s a problem, the government and the unions, for example, sit down at a table far from cameras to air their differences and come to solutions. In these countries, a small segment of the population could not make life difficult to impossible for other workers (only 11 percent of the total French railway employees, but the majority of the conductors, are striking and that’s enough to tie the entire country up in knots).
In my mythical – or perhaps real – country you are not a prisoner in your own home for weeks at a time because railway workers, nurses and doctors and teachers and farmers are unhappy (many for legitimate reasons, some not) and have to stage a national psychodrama to get the government to listen to them.
I really do think I’m dreaming.
Still…. I wonder – do you think the Finns or the Danes or the Swedes would have me? If so, I’ll be there in a jiffy.