The May Day Issue

photo: may day cafe, bd beaumarchais

Spectators or paraders wait for May Day to come down
the boulevard from République.

Including 'Romantic' and 'Deux-Chevaux'

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 7. May 2001:- Welcome to the 'Romantic Deux-Chevaux May Day' issue. Despite its wonderful name, I doubt if this will become an annual editorial institution because the May Day part required me to work both on my 'weekend' and on a public holiday.

Tuesday was called the 'Fête du Travail' - a day when workers are supposed to take it easy by having a 'free' one on the house. I feel a bit like a strike-breaker, although I did manage to fit my 'weekend' stuff in on the same day.

But First the Bad News

This concerns the weather. I will make it short because it is ugly. Last week's weather was exactly the same as the rest of this spring - rotten! - and next week's weather is predicted to be the same - more rotten! There is no indication that this pattern of rottenness will change. Ugly and basta!

Café Life

The Fête du Travail

Last Tuesday was the only day of the week to live up to a slightly optimistic Monday night TV-weather forecast. The sun did not shine much, it was not too cold and I don't remember it actually raining.

For my seventh edition of the May Day parade of workers and farmers, I did not bother arriving early. From past years I know the pre-parade launch is wonderful to see at the Place de la République, but does not display much action.

Instead, I popped out of the métro at Bastille and walked towards the parade coming down the Boulevard Beaumarchais, which seemed to be on time. The cops were clearing away the last confused car drivers, while the parade's leading balloons were in sight.

This year's march was distinguished by the presence of workers in fear of losing their jobs, caused by recent layoff announcementsphoto: lu banner, may day parade by several profitable companies - Danone, Moulinex, Valeo, and Marks & Spencer - plus the employees of the troubled airline, AOM-Air Liberté.

Many of this years' paraders had specific complaints.

Many of these workers were marching in their first May Day parade. For them it was not 'festif' - and they were taking part because they had 'nothing to lose.' For the airline staff, it was a bitter pill because their company's chief stockholder is also the head of the powerful bosses' union in France.

In my eyes, the parade had many more participants than in recent years. But also as in recent years, not all unions were present on the same pavement. The FO and the CFTC marched elsewhere in Paris, and the only major leader in the march from République to the Place de la Nation was Bernard Thibault, head of the diminished but still powerful CGT.

The official 'count' for participants was 20,000. After I had watched the head of the parade pass on Beaumarchais, I returned to Bastille. Looking back towards République, it looked like the crowd of marchers, with their balloons and red flags, was endless.

At the head of the marchers, the usual CGT gorilla squad swept everybody out of the street. After thisphoto: music truck, may day parade formality, anyone watching the parade from the sidewalks was free to join in, as one Café Metropole Club member did with me last year.

This years' sound truck featured a live and loud band playing good stuff.

May Day parades are also supposed to be noisy. I give this years' version a top score for its multi-megawatt music truck. It featured, instead of disco-techno noise - somewhat unloved by actual factory workers! - a Santana-like band, which wouldn't have been out of place in any carnival parade worth mentioning.

Paris' various parades were shown on local coverage by France-3 TV. Their typical close-up shots gave a good impressions of small amounts of marchers, but nothing like being on the spot and seeing a line of paraders fill a 35-metre wide boulevard from curb to curb, from front to back.

The 'War in Syria'

After the march, I was tanking up on café in the Rendez-Vous, idly looking forward to finding some jewels among the parade photos, when an older man next to me at the bar said something like, "That war in Syria will never end."

I glanced up at the TV to see if there were any Syrian wars being shown on it but Internet-zoom Web propaganda was all there was. I assumed I had misheard the guy.

'Syria' in French sounds almost like the word for sawmill - to me - so when he repeated the phase I couldn't help myself from asking him if he was talking about Syria or sawmills. Why he might be talking to no one in particular about either is of no consequence - not in a café in Paris.

'Yes,' he said, he did say Syria. I racked my brains for a week's worth of TV-news but found no Syrian wars. Of course, I miss out on events and there could have been a short one I overlooked.

But, it seemed to turn out, that he was talking about some pre-WWII Syrian war, or he was himself so pre-WWII thatphoto: balloon van, may day he was using the name 'Syria' instead of the 'Middle East,' as it is generally called these days.

This led to finding out he could have been talking about sawmills too, because he had been a carpenter. This had been in the French navy and later on cargo ships - plus in the Rue Saint-Antoine and in Boulogne when it was full of workers in the '30's.

Luckily for the small van, the day was nearly windless.

He thought a lot of what he had to say was quite funny, so certain details got blanked out by laughter. Some of these were serious sea-going tales, such as how it was necessary to drink 50 beers while ashore in Abidjan. It was so hot, he said, that spit would evaporate before hitting the deck.

By the same chance which had me run into him on May Day, I saw him a couple of days later. He could barely remember the 'War in Syria,' but the cargo ships in the tropics were still fresh.

Metropole Offers Its Photos

The offer of Metropole's large-format photos continues with a new photo / image page, which is included in this isue. However, the photos are a re-rund from a previous issues - mostly due to rotten weather conditions

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