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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Velibs and Manifs

It turns out there is a velib station nearly right in front of our building.  'Velib' is the French bike sharing system.  We've been meaning to try it for quite a while.  We finally got a weekend day nice enough to bike, and without too many chores to do, so we signed up and headed towards the Jardin du Palais Royal, about a twenty minute ride.   Or so we thought.

We made it past the Eiffel Tower and rode onto a pedestrian bridge over the Seine.  We took a little break there, while tourists took pictures of themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower.  We looked up and down the concrete-banked river and saw stone bridges ornamented with sculptures and street lights.  As we looked, I suddenly noticed a "manif" - thousands of people marching across the next bridge, waving pink and blue flags and singing and waving flags, blowing whistles and air horns, and generally making a rucus.  The first thing that came to mind, was "how are we going to get across that?!"  So, we biked the next half mile over to the "manif", what the French call a demonstration.

Many of the people were carrying pink or blue flags with an iconic representation of a four-person family holding hands - a mother, father, brother, and sister.  A majority of people had on t-shirts with the vague tag line "Manif pour Tout" (demonstration for all).  Lots had signs criticizing President Hollande.  I saw one woman with a home made sign that showed a huge photo of a baby's face with an slack-jawed, adult look of shock on its face, and the tag line "My mommy's name is Roger!?"  Another said "Nine months in the uterus is time well spent."  So, we supposed it was either against gay marriage in general, or against gay adoption, or both.  Gay marriage was passed at the national level last month.

After we pushed our bikes across the river of demonstrators, we came up on a cordon of police in their special armored uniforms.

[Many of the French police wear armor on their shoulders and upper arms and on their shins.  The armor is made of overlapping plates of black kevlar, sort of like giant snake scales, so that the armor doesn't inhibit movement when crazed protesters are hurling molotov cocktails at them.

I thought the armor was overkill when I first saw it, but Paris has a lot of protests with extremists.  So, I'm not exaggerating when I say people throw molotov cocktails.  It's almost routine around here.]

Anyway, the darned cops would not let us OUT of the protest area, down the completely empty street that led to our destination. We spent the next hour weaving among the protesters, trying to find some side street or bridge that wasn't blocked by police.

They had every side street for miles sealed tight.  Eventually, we ditched the bikes at a nearby Velib station and walked back toward home.  Then we had the bright idea to take the metro under all this mess.  But, no, it turned out all the metro stops in the area were also locked.

Of course, I got very frustrated that the police were creating a problem that made no sense.  But what was more daunting, is that, after an hour, this crowd that filled a road five lanes across was still not anywhere near exhausted.  Huge throngs continued to fill the streets for the entire hour, and there was no end in sight.  Every time there was a thin area of the crowd, I'd think it was almost over, then more huge crowds would pour down the street from some unseen starting point.  This was certainly one of the biggest demonstrations I've ever seen.  [News reported it anywhere from 150,000 to 1,000,000 people the next day, so it was probably somewhere in between.  It turned out there were five different starting points for the march, so there were four other routes just as choked with thousands of protesters all heading to one huge rally.]

Of course, I completely disagree with the protesters.  Committed consenting adult gay couples should be able to marry and adopt.

Anyway, it turns out that our attempt to walk back home was probably as fun or more fun than going where we'd intended to go.  It was an extremely rare day where it was comfortable to go for a walk.  On the way home, we randomly encountered an amazing Art Nouveau house.

Sorry to say I've got no explanation for this house.

Then we ran into this building with grasses and flowers completely covering its four story walls.  It's on Quai Branley, adjacent to the Museum of Natural History, so we think it might be the offices of that museum.

I recall reading people saying that just walking around Paris with no plan at all is pretty entertaining.  If the weather is decent, which is rare since we've been here, then I'd say that's true.  And I haven't even mentioned the roving, drunken, tux-wearing, moussed-up British bachelor's party sitting on the sidewalk drinking beer from bottles.  Sorry, no photos.

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