samedi, novembre 05, 2005

Guillotine Revivalists

Guillotine Revivalists

News has been spreading across the globe about these riots, and we’ve even received an email or two asking if we are all right. Riots? What riots? Aggrieved immigrants are burning down the Paris suburbs bit by bit each night, and we have been oblivious to all this until just two nights ago—a full week after the onset of "unrest." This is how it is in the capital of France for two Americans so very unaware.

The State Department has issued a warning that all Americans in Paris must stay out of the suburbs, or the "banlieues" as they are called, which encircle the city proper. We are also told (so I read in the NY Times) that we are not to take the rail line to Charles DeGaulle Airport: this route bisects a particularly nasty area, and there have been “problems” for some trains and their passengers….

When we rode the RER train to Disneyland a month and a half ago, we rode through these “hotspots.” And we shared the train with the people living in these dreaded banlieues. Onboard, we saw lots of hard, haggard faces, many from somewhere in Africa, North or otherwise; there were many women, some wearing headscarves. Some of the young men seemed mildly menacing, others more-so, but most not at all. I was aware that we stood out (like a pro-Bush billboard over the Bois de Boulogne)(to most Frenchmen every American is pro-Bush; but to most Parisians, no American intelligent enough to talk to them could be), and I remained alert for any antipathy directed at us. Mainly, people just seemed tired. The landscape outside the train windows wasn’t obviously desolate, it just seemed distasteful because it so obviously wasn’t Paris. The houses and apartment buildings had that unfortunate look, shared by most contemporary (i.e., post-war) building I’ve seen in Europe, which is a sort of half-assed combination of unconvincing Mies-ian modernist planning, generic, box-like construction, and all overlaid with a few traditional touches, like an elaborate tile roofs, or shutters. Blech.

It may well be worth burning.

So, with our ears ringing to this new reverberation of violence, we settled down to bed.

That’s when the trouble started.

It was late, as it always is when we turn in (two AM often comes and goes before bedtime). Once the lights are out, and you are quiet in bed, that’s when any noise from the street becomes the center of your attention. We just wanted to sleep. But no… it was the damn rowdies at The Moose.

People laugh differently in different languages—it’s true, I can’t explain it other than to guess a mouth becomes comfortable making certain shapes, causing certain sounds, and these naturally carry-over to non-language sounds like laughter. Well, the same is true of aimless yells and indulgent screaming: you can tell, more or less, when it is bellowed by an American, when it is hollered by a Frenchman, and even when it is yowled in non-native French—German, or Arabic, for example.
Now, this shouting downstairs kept getting louder, and it had an edge. Also unsettling, it sounded like a thick-tongued French, a sort of non-native flatness in its bark that added to its menace. The shouting became so insistent, and sounded so aggressive, that it no longer resembled the nightly drunken squalls we have become accustomed to, and I began to worry the street beneath our window was breaking out in a mini-riot.

Could that be? I mean, could it happen here?

Damn that Moose and that Mystery Club! It’s bad enough they keep us awake ALL NIGHT—now they have brought real danger to the neighborhood with their all-night hours and endless liquor. Encouraging delinquency!

I went to the window to see what was the matter. I was ready to call the cops if it looked like a riot. A riot—what does that mean? Mainly I was worried a couple of goons were going to smoke some hapless Nissan Micra parked on the side of the road. As you recall, the street below our apartment windows allows for street parking.

I sound paranoid, but you wouldn't have believed the noise. And why wasn't every resident at their window, or calling the cops? Did they just know this was harmless fun? Or had they all found ways of sleeping through the night which left them deaf to the racket on the street?

After a particularly intense noise burst would bring me to the window, I would catch sight of a drapery rustling behind some dark window in one of the other apartments. OK. So they are monitoring this, too. They would call the cops. They've got more at stake here than two transient Americans.

Terrifying, the sort of hatred that can grow in your heart, laying on your bed, trying to sleep, assaulted by deliberate obnoxiousness for HOURS. It sounded way too out of hand to go down there and start trouble this time. And I know how useless this would be when I don't speak the language. We didn't seem to be in danger. But over ther hours we roused by waves of voices, one group coming together, shouting, giving way to different voices who would then congregate, erupt, subside, be joined by new voices, who would then run off down the street, bang on the walls, rev their scooter engines to the redline, burn-out in their micro cars, stop, open the doors, play loud music, slam the car doors, drive off, etc., etc., until 7 AM.

Forget the rioters. Let's revive the guillotine for disturbing my sleep.