Tuesday, April 26, 2011

not the rouge

I never thought I'd write in defence of French riot police. However, something truly awful has happened to the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité). Indeed, the ones we love to hate have just been denied by official decree that most cherished and antic pleasure, a single glass of wine (or cider or beer) with their meals. When you think about it, there are few delights in life more simple than a glass of wine with your meal. And the fact that the CRS used to enjoy theirs while on duty doesn't change the argument much.

This latest ban (after the burqa, the rouge!) is yet another sign of a rampant righteousness taking hold in French society. It's commonly said that a moderate amount of wine, beer or cider digested with a meal, especially by people who have a physical job doesn't affect their ability to perform. Riot police are no surgeons; they are muscles in boots and helmets. Their job is to look scary and to use urban guerrilla tactics in order to protect peaceful demonstrators from the occasional troublemakers. You come across them all the time in the streets of Paris on demonstration days: these are relatively young men, fit and fast. A glass of wine gulped down with a hachis Parmentier is not going to cloud their judgment (they obey orders anyway) or make their legs wobble. It won't make them more aggressive; if anything, it might actually make them a little more humane.

The CRS are futuristically clad manga-like characters, and coming into contact with them is a rite of passage for first time demonstrators in France. One of the first slogans you learn as a French adolescent is "CRS – SS", courtesy of the May '68 events. However, this ferocious association couldn't be further from the truth. Created in 1944 by Gaullist France, the French riot police mainly consisted of former resistance members, many of them communists. During a demonstration in Marseille in 1947 organised by the Communist party, the CRS refused to intervene. They were swiftly reorganised. Since then, their zeal at neutralising agitateurs has depended in large part on the personality of the prefects, interior minister, and the political character of the government. In 1968, apart from one unrelated accident, there were no casualties among students: a real achievement considering the level of tension that reigned in the capital and the whole country at the time.

What's certain is that the CRS do not do an easy job. They are the buffers of our democracy, and we need them during every spat and argument we have with the government so that things don't degenerate into chaos. And for this, I believe they deserve their daily glass of wine.

This ban sounds like another Sarkozy intitiative, the kind a teetotaller who loves nothing more than the chocolate mousse and raspberry yogurts he might serve up after an excitable meeting with anti-alcohol lobbyists.

Let's leave the last word to Charles Baudelaire who, in The Soul of Wine, wrote:

"For I feel a boundless joy when I flow
Down the throat of a man worn out by his labour
His warm breast is a pleasant tomb
Where I'm much happier than in my cold cellar …

I shall light up the eyes of your enraptured wife
And give back to your son his strength and his colour
I shall be for that frail athlete of life
The oil that hardens a wrestler's muscles."

And before I'm accused of inciting debauchery, let me say that, like all pleasures in life, this one should be enjoyed in moderation. Cheers.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Cara--

    Good point. Without a wine or beer at lunch, the French riot police will simply crack skulls. With a civilized glass of whatever, they are more likely to crack skulls and recite Baudelaire.

    Moot point, though, because the riot police are going to ignore this ban, and who is going to bother enforcing it? Their superiors, who've had (at least) half a bottle at lunch?

    This is a curious political move by Sarko. Has he not noticed what country he's president of? What is the constituency he's appealing to here?


    PS. While I heartily agree with your conclusions, I don't find your closing disclaimer persuasive. It's kind of impossible to quote Baudelaire without wholeheartedly inciting debauchery.

  2. Your post is as interesting and charming as your books which I am currently reading in order. France is a puzzle to me-reading your writings helps.

  3. Sounds like France is taking on one of the less savory characteristics of the U.S.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  4. Kara, so sorry to hear about your Mother, my sympathy. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed your post and as usual I smiled and also wondered. I shared your post on my FB page. I might get some really interesting answers to your article!

  5. Michael and I, plotting in Minneapolis, raise a glass of rouge to your lovely blog. Clink!

  6. What ever happened to the ban with Sarkozy's defeat? And what do French politians do after they're voted out of office, anyhow?

  7. Hi Stan, Michael... happy plotting! And drink a glass of wine on me and Lynda on our spooky little books! Going great, we sold 55 books at a book signing on Sunday (Wisebird Bookery)! October is a great month for our books. :-)