Red Flags, Blue Skies

photo: may day flags

Union flags, between République and Bastille.

A Perfect May Day

Paris:- Monday, 1. May 2000:- I am trying to remember life before I went to May Day parades. For one thing, I think I used to sleep in on the morning of this nearly universal Workers' and Peasants' Fête.

But, in order to 'cover' today's parade, I have had to switch the order of doing things around. When I do this, things become unglued; so I have to wake up early.

As predicted, there is morning haze and it is too soon to tell whether part two of the prediction will come true - gloriously sunny skies for today's May Day festival of official sloth this afternoon.

Beaver away as I do, I do not get my quota filled by the time the afternoon deadline has rolled around - but the weather prediction has come true. There will be red flags against blue skies.

Along with a nice sky the temperatures are above 'normal.' I thinkphoto: may day barbque this makes my score for attended May Days about 50 percent, which is a higher than 'normal' percentage for special days in Paris.

No workers' fête is complete without smoked food.

As usual, and despite all the agitation over the implementation of the 35-hour work week, all workers and peasants are not marching together today. The F.O. union is having its own fête up in the 19th and the Anarcho-Syndicalists will be parading around in the 20th.

Le Parisien says the big group, which is the socialist CFDT union and the communist CGT union will be together at République, for a march to Bastille. I don't really believe this - normally the march would be to the Bastille and then on to the Place de la Nation.

When I pop out of the métro hole at Temple, things are looking good with a huge red flag - with hammer and sickle! - draped on Morice's statue to the République. All the smoke from the temporary grills give an impression of a recent battle - although the smell is different.

The big place is too big to see what is in it, and what it stacked up behind, waiting to get in it. But the crowd does not seem huge. The customary noise is not overwhelming.

Without asking anybody, I assume the parade will head for Bastille; so I shortcut down some parallel streets to hit the Boulevard du Temple near the Cirque d'Hiver. Near here, I can see the parade bunched up at République, waiting for its launch.

The last parade I saw around here was the Techno Parade. A rough crowd-count says there are fewer bystanders today.

It is really the right weather for it. Clouds are high and thin and there's little wind. Just beyond the Cirque d'Hiver I find a better view on a higher curb.

After not too long the front of the parade advances to the intersection right in front of me and stops. The security guys form a rough bumper in front of the parade's front line; joined together by a hand-held rope.

I finally figure out this spot has been picked - how? - for making the video clips for tonight's TV-news. The only notable I recognize is Bernard Thibault, thephoto: masked marcher general secretary of the CGT union. He is easy to recognize because he is the only person in Europe who still has a early-'60's style Beatles haircut.

He could have been only four or five at the time. I think his haircut shows a healthy respect for the past, suitable for any self-respecting Communist.

Some marchers make serious political statements of themselves.

The video clip recording goes on for quite some time. There must be other personages present, hidden behind the cameras and the sound guys with the fuzzy mikes on poles.

But who cares? It is sunny and warm. The sky is blue. The trees have sprays of green. On the curb, there is no pushing and shoving.

The word for today must be relaxed. The security guys don't look menacing, holding on to their little rope. People are coming by and handing out leaflets. Most of these are appeals to allow foreigners to vote.

After taking one I refuse the others. I'm on the voter's list already. A CGT tract I am handed claims a 'catastrophic bottom line' for the workers. The union says the law governing the 35-hour work week is only working for the benefit of the bosses.

Finally the parade gets underway again until it stops for another video-opportunity a few blocks further on; leaving a CFDT sound wagon right in front - pumping out the Cuban hit parade at 123 dbs.

This part reminds me of the awful noise made by the Techno Parade near here. People danced to that racket, but I don't see anybody dancing today.

Don't let lack of dancing give you the impression this is all glum. Far from it; it simply doesn't appear to be dance-time. I leave my curb-stone and waltz in behind the leaders of the parade.

Taking in the parade by being in it probably explains why there seem to be few spectators. C'mon everybody - get on the yellow brick road to Bastille!

This comes up quickly enough once the video works are over. A first view of the big place gives me the notion that half the paraders have skipped the parade entirely, and have been waitingphoto: right to vote signs patiently at Bastille for it to arrive - because there are a lot more people in it than just the security guys and the cops leading the parade.

The banners say 'Voting rights for foreigners.'

Near the pillar a bandstand is set up. A couple of lines of people in flashy blazers are on it, and an announcer seems to be saying 'thank you' for paying attention to their chorus or choir or whatever it is they did.

In the place, besides a lot of people, there seems to be a lot of noise - music - coming from different sources. By the Arsenal marina there is a tent with a sign saying something like 'Telecarte Expo,' but I do not think it is the source of much of what is pounding my ears.

Snack trucks are parked around, letting off clouds of smoke. Many people are milling about, as if something is going to happen. All the café terraces are full. Spectators? May Day idlers? Marchers? How so? - we're just arriving.

For the first time I glance at my watch and see that nearly three hours have passed. I thought we just walked from République to Bastille - normally this doesn't take very long.

For me it is late. There's photos to do and thisphoto: flags at bastille to write. I'll have to watch the TV-news to see how the video-clips have turned out - plus get the latest on the other marches today.

I go down the Boulevard Henri IV to the Pont de Sully and the Seine and the buildings on the Ile Saint-Louis are catching a warm light - with Notre Dame slightly hazed by distance.

And finally, more flags, fun and games at Bastille.

I'm a little dozy so I walk further than necessary to a métro station. A train comes quickly but when I make the change to the Orléans line, the train takes forever to come.

Walking the last couple of blocks, I realize that the streets are much calmer than normal. Traffic is as squirrelly as usual, but there's much less of it. In the first and last café, all the doors are open and its TV is off.

Which means there must have been no sports today. The players had a workers' and peasant's holiday too.

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