I left Paris six months ago the day before the shootings. Looking back, I wondered if a sense of innocence had left with me. Now returning after six months and the recent Brussels massacre I wondered at what had changed.
Well, a lot and not a lot. April ushered in blooming lilacs, school vacations and a quiet in the streets. A sort of quiet since the students were protesting the upcoming labor laws in an unusual alliance with workers unions, staging 'Nuitdebout' Up all night at the Place de la Republique to show their defiance and of course making it a party. Depending on who you believe they mostly ended up turning violent - which was the intention. Outsiders with crow bars and Molotov cocktails joined in and disrupted. My friend, a policewoman says this is part of the campaign 'haine des flics' hating the flics. Lots of Parisians don't like the police but in the press even these disrupters are called outsiders brought in to wreak havoc. The police and military presence in Paris is huge...everywhere you see them strolling with Uzi's - your bags are checked on the Metro, even bicycle riders are stopped and their bags searched. Yet, no one minds, oddly, because it's done with that 'laissez-faire you know we need to do this' attitude. Often as I walked a trio of CRS the riot police passed me, or I was in step with another trio of blue uniforms or the military. I did what the Parisians did and opened my bag, and kept going. Like most I ignored them but tried to take pics when they weren't looking. On May 1st, fete de la muguet which is when lilies of the valley are sold on the street corners for good luck and everyone is - and has been for centuries - allowed to sell without being taxed. It's also International Workers Day and brought the demonstrations which in theory are forbidden by the Emergency Laws enacted after the shootings. All of France is on high alert. So clashes with the police, tear gas but that's getting ahead of the story. On May 1st I passed Place de la Republique and couldn't figure it out. My friend had too and said there were so many groups protesting in their own cells and then families out for the day and it was hodgepodge. No teargas until that night at Metro Nation, the old Place de la Trone where the 'intermittents' part-time union actors were protesting since their benefits were being cut. Again, the rumor was that disruptors came in and got violent causing a strong police response. The actors took over the hallowed Comedie Francaise theatre and the next night we saw them on the balcony of the Odeon theatre waving to a few supporters. They'd shut down and taken over the theatre. Another French friend said -- Eh it's May, it's getting hot, the month is spreckled with holidays signifying summer is coming and that's when everyone demonstrates--- Two other friends trumpeted the conspiracy theory - According to them the Government knows that every thirty years a possible revolution might take place and they do everything they can in planning a strategy to stop it. So, to their thinking, the French government, even while on high police and military alert against a further Jihadist attack (everyone says there is going to be another one) are sending in armed and violent disruptors to scatter the students and strong unions who the Government feels threatened by. I don't know what's true. All I know is that my Parisian friends and the Parisians I know just want to take their kids to school, go to work, pick them up and take them to gorgeous Jardin Luxembourg and later sit at a cafe with friends over an apero in their beautiful city - contemplate which exhibition to attend (So many to choose from! I recommend the photo show at the Conciergerie by a Greek photographer - it's amazing in the old Gothic vaults) and what to do in the upcoming long holidays. There was a sense of solidarity which I attribute to the feelings after the November attacks - people talked to each other in line at a boulangerie, countless times people gave up their seats on the Metro, on the bus for an older person, a parent with children, a stranger helped a mother carry her stroller up the Metro steps, a woman in the street saw an errant toddler get away from a father and caught his hand before disaster could strike. Paris is a village, as they say, and it felt like that to me. More than ever. I was lucky to speak with two police - both involved in the Bataclan murders investigation - one in the Brigade Criminelle who was in charge of the scene and another a CSI investigator who spent all weekend there identifying the bodies ---well, they both teared up as they told me...and it shows in those whose lives were touched by that.Cara - Tuesday and jet lagged