At Versailles the Japanese manga artist Takeshi Murakami has an exhibition in the Hall of Mirrors and Grands Appartments. This photo hit me. A visceral impact. And here's a Jeff Koons dog.
Probably most of you have visited Versailles, seen Marie Antoinette's folie and strolled through the gardens. The closest I ever came was to the locked gates one midnight with a manic depressive who worked in the Ministry of Interior - a story too long to tell here. But given the high security alert in Europe right now, the Eiffel tower was evacuated and closed twice in the past few weeks, it made me think of the men who would be responding should something happen. It coincides with my second close miss of Versailles last year when I toured the EPIGN, the Escadron Parachutiste d'Intervention de la Gendarmarie Nationale (French counter-terrorist and special operations group) the elite anti-terrorist unit headquartered a few kilometers outside Versailles at Satory. This top sub unit handles high profile bombing, terrorist, VIP protection, site security, snipers, bomb and IED detection teams and hostage situations. They're trained in the sea, to parachute into the mountains, the desert, and in urban and rural settings. Not those Uzi toting uniforms you see in Paris at the train stations or in front of embassies, or the CRS the swat teams at demonstrations. The EPIGN rarely make the news or are known to the public. These men train and perform mock missions year round when they're not responding to real-life crisis. Years ago, to teach operators to remain calm under water, Epign swimmers would lie on the bed of the Seine while large barges passed only a few feet over their heads. They also learned to shoot and eliminate targets on board a ship or dock as soon as they broke water.The corporal who took me around their headquarters apologized for not introducing me to one of the units, they were in the Russian steppes experiencing high altitude snow conditions. He took me in the body of a 747 plane where the units practice storming planes and taking hostages out alive. They've got a 90% positive hostage recovery rate. And their own airfield with helicopters and planes able to respond fully equipped and on board within thirty minutes. He showed me the armory and the uniforms tailored for weather and situation. They gain at least fifty pounds fully suited up and armed. They're expected to be able to climb and run a certain number of kilometers, I forget, with all that on their backs. He handed me a Heckler and Koch pistol to try at their indoor shooting range and not only did I miss the target, I turned and accidently pointed it an one of men. Two of them jumped on me immediately.