Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Free Money" Sparks Riot Today in Paris

I was going to go out and get some pictures of photo displays for a post, and then thousands of people showed up outside and, well, I got distracted.

This is the story of a publicity stunt gone awry. Apparently, a web site called "Mailorama" planned to give away money somewhere in our neighborhood. Things didn't turn out too well when a police officer announced that the event had been canceled.

Some wandered around looking disappointed...

while others decided to rock the police car from side to side. The lone cop promptly left, and that was the last we saw of law and order for at least a half hour.

Most people just wandered around the Champs de Mars, thinking maybe money would fall from the sky if they just waited long enough.


And of course, there are always those that like to climb whenever there's a big gathering. But with no real cause, people mostly looked confused.


But then, like the cliché butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon, the word "money" must have escaped someone's lips. Everyone dashed to the "Carrefour City" grocery store right across the street from our place.


Still no money. Still no purpose. No monuments to climb on. But wait! Fruit stand!!! (check out the guy at left)


People were grabbing fruit, stuffing their pockets, eating as if they hadn't had a meal in days. (check out the guy at the right).


I mean, what else is there to do with food, right? Oh, wait a minute, here's an idea:
FOOD FIGHT!!!!!!!

It was like Christmastime in some Norman Rockwell "Saturday Evening Post" snowball fight illustration (or for you cinephiles, the snowball fight scene in Abel Gance's "Napoleon"), except instead of snow, there were only apples, oranges, tomatoes, and melons, and instead of quaint children of yesteryear, there were hordes of disenfranchised youth chanting "La banlieue! La banlieue!" (that's "suburbs," but here in France, it signifies the ghetto culture that strikes fear into the heart of every right-wing Frenchman).

On the bright side, apples, oranges, and melons taste better than snow. But don't mention that to someone who has just suffered a melon induced head trauma. The best thing to do in this kind of situation is RUN....


unless you're a person throwing fruit or an adrenaline junkie with a camera.



I was a little nervous that my camera would get smashed, but I wanted to get a shot that included the ATMs that say "RETRAIT," which in French has the dual meaning of "withdrawal" (as in "cash," or in this case, "fruit" withdrawal), and "retreat" which is what most sensible people do in this kind of situation.


Two details in the following photo that might not jump out at you: 1. The "Algérie" sweatshirt that basically evokes all kinds of things the French have tried to repress for so long, and 2. The poster in the background with a smug man in a suit that reads "THE DAMNED UNITED."

One of my favorite shots, I really wish it were larger here for you to appreciate the expression on the woman's face (cowering below the red awning) and the reflection in the window just above her head (you'll have to trust me on this one) that says OH (it took me a while to figure out it was from a hotel).


A shot where THE DAMNED UNITED poster is seen more clearly. It's one of those scrolling poster displays, so it was serendipitous to have that one visible.


One thing that surprised me was to see women gather fruit as if they had stumbled out of a Millet painting. The older woman (far left) found a nice melon, and the younger woman in the phone booth busied herself by filling a lovely rustic basket with fruit from two crates she had swiped just a minute earlier.

It may look relatively peaceful in that photo, but a few people had actually been hit so hard that they had fallen to the ground. Several people around me were hit, and my hair and camera took some shrapnel from a golden delicious and a clementine. Things were getting sticky, and I decided it was time to go inside for an aerial view.

A good view, but I had to take photos from behind a closed window once a couple of apples and clementines splattered into our living room. Eva was screaming, the computer almost took a direct hit, and Lucas' Nintendo DS charger got permanently wounded. We will now pause to watch Max clean juice off the wall:


But turning away from our living room trauma...

Yes, that is a car being overturned by the mob.


I ought to show some close crops so you can appreciate the expressions, but for now, just let me say that the media usually misrepresent scenes like this. Just like my experience with the youth at the techno parade, I found the violence to be playful more than angry. Most people are having a lot of fun (which I guess makes sense, given the expression "it's a riot."). The lack of rage makes it no less dangerous. In fact, it makes it more disturbing (like something Haneke would shoot).

The view from the apartment gave me some great shots, but it also distanced me from the crowd. Besides the threat of flying fruit, I had at least one guy give me the "I'm watching you and you're dead" sign from down below. When you're down with the people, you just smile and nod like you're enjoying the fun alongside them. But if you're looking down from your wrought-iron balcony, sniping photos with a long lens from behind the geraniums, you may as well be Marie-Antoinette saying "Let them eat cake!"—which, the French historian in me must note, she never actually said. Not that it mattered. Living conditions speak for themselves.

By this point, there's no going back downstairs. Mr. crazy eyes has already given me a death sentence and I'm stuck in my tower. As much as I want to go back outside, all I can do is make sure the windows are locked and speculate about why the riot police are taking so long.

Oh look, why there they are now...


From here, things go back to "normal."


By late afternoon, the streets have been swept clean of broken glass and car fragments. A salon is open, so I go get my hair cut in time for a ballet tonight at the Opera Garnier. We sit in one of the "loges"— a private enclave with lush velvet seats and a sofa. Six of us nestled behind a walnut door: a Japanese couple, an English woman with her friend from Greece, and us. We complain about the view. We rearrange our seats during intermission and decide we like the third act the best. Not a smashed clementine in sight.

We take the metro back to our rain-washed streets. The cobblestones remind me of that Gustave Caillebotte painting of a bourgeois couple sharing an umbrella. I take the boys out for a gelato on Rue Cler. We don't talk about eating cake, but we send Max to the Carrefour across the street to buy flour because tomorrow is Sunday.

17 comments:

Jennie Hurlbut said...

Marc, great post and amazing photos--much better than Reuters' photos of the event! I love the apple in midair in the "Retrait" photo.
So why is there fruit available outside the Carrefour when the store is closed? Did the fruit seller flee? (The store windows look like it's closed.)
From online ads it appears that the promotion had planned that a red double-decker bus would deliver the euros. I wonder if someone from afar saw the red awning of the restaurant and thought it was the bus, and started the rush to that corner? And how did you get a loge at the Opera Garnier?? Sounds like you're having too much fun.

michelle said...

Your on-the-street photos are so great. Actually, your from the window photos are great, too, but I got a different viewpoint from the ones you took outside. You're a little crazy, you adrenaline junkie you...

lotsjop said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Gray Family said...

Agnes Varda would have loved those old gleaners...

Blair said...

What an experience! It's fortunate that your apartment looks right over where it was happening, and I love the one of Max wiping off the wall.

marc said...

Hateful xenophobes should know that this isn't a forum for venting your racist rage. My blog. My rules. Try talk radio instead.

Jesse said...

I'd like to see some cropped shots of the faces you describe. Meanwhile, please don't make riot photography one of your monthly challenges. I'm not sure I've got the grit for it.

lotsjop said...

you are a hateful xenophobe yourself because you dont allow freedom of speech on your blog.

and at least i see the world how it really is, and i can recognize a problem. you must still be in denial about mass-immigration.

lotsjop said...

Keep playing holier than thou, professor.

You wanna bet i have more friends from different ethnic groups then you have?

I was just trying to say there are a lot of immigrants from Africa coming here to Europe that willingly dont want to contribute to our society.
There are many areas in Paris that you wouldnt dare to go to after dark.

Everything you see is a projection of your own mind, you can see it in your blog.
You put people in a box yourself, you talk about being at ballet and sitting in a "private enclave", with people from Japan, England and Greece. Why would you mention the ethnicity of other visitors at ballet??
Because maybe you are a xenophobe yourself and you feel comfortable when you can give people a identity.

Rosemary said...

Bored youth, a 200+ year old tradition of rioting in the streets, and a high-cost-of-living city where racial/ethnic tensions co-exist with the cocooned world of a Garnier beignoire - they all contribute to Algerie moving from le banlieu to the 7th. The 7th! I'm sure the residents of the 8th and the 16th took note......or, perhaps not. Not yet. In all my years of residence, I've always described Paris as a city I love, and in some aspects, a city I love to hate. The contrasts are striking, as are your blog comments. Thanks for the photos and your commentary.

Michaela said...

thank you for posting. some of this seemed uproariously funny the way you put it, we laughed out loud, although obviously with this crowd mentality things could have gone even more seriously wrong.

lotsjop said...

did any of you see the new images of this African boy walking the streets with a machete/ big kitchen knife?

talking about bored youth.....
soon these guys will take the word rioting to a new dimension...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAEtdwQAKJ8

you can see him at 0'59

Corry Cropper said...

Le Figaro picked up the story. They note that several ministers (Hortefeux, Lagarde) have stated they intend to make Mailorama pay for damages.

http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2009/11/14/01016-20091114ARTFIG00604-la-distribution-de-billets-de-banque-a-paris-annulee-.php

Corry Cropper said...

And video here in Libé:

http://www.liberation.fr/societe/06011428-la-distribution-d-argent-tourne-mal

Includes a police officer explaining that people shouldn't believe it when they here someone is giving away money. "Where have you ever heard of that happening?" he asks. "In the U.S." someone answers. "Well, you're learning the difference between France and the U.S. There is an ocean between us..."

marc said...

@lotsjob—let me quickly clarify a few things and then I will give no further comment because I don't want to encourage a rant.
1. my personal belief is that how people are raised is more of a factor in their behavior than race.
2.you may be missing the point of my comments about the Opera and my private enclave, which was to acknowledge the separation of socio-economic conditions that make my own sympathies with marginalized cultures feel hypocritical. The references to my "enclave" and its national variety are part of a self-critique. In that box, we were all foreigners. We visit, take the best of a culture, and are usually untouched by the rest. The presence of a riot near the Eiffel Tower shows that contrast.

Modern Girl Style said...

This is crazy, no matter what country it happened in. I know the grocery store is a big chain, but that poor beautiful fruit wasted! Or the owner of that car! I think that company that offered free money should pay all expenses. Great photography to document a strange event.

Make Money Fast said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.