Our Neighborhood Surprise

The other day we left our apartment around noon to go shopping. We heard sirens wailing and noticed a lot of people streaming toward and past us, and we soon found out why: a large anti-riot police presence at the end of our street. So, of course, we continued walking in order to see what was happening.

Hello! These were serious, robo cop-style police units that deal with violent demonstrations, and there were about 40 officers at the nearest intersection. The street was littered with trash, trash bins lay about in disarray, and there was broken glass on the street and sidewalks. And here we come, walking into this with our little grocery cart in tow, thinking we’re going to pick up a baguette.

Even though it appeared that the violence was over, with the demonstrators dispersed to several blocks away, the police were not standing down, so we thought a quick U-turn would be sensible. We could do our shopping later. Most businesses were temporarily closed anyway.

It didn’t seem like a good time to ask any officer what was going on, either.

Later on, we learned on the news that high school students and others, in solidarity with teachers striking for more COVID safety measures in schools, had blocked streets with trash bins, dumped out trash and glass, and clashed with police trying to keep them on their approved demonstration route.

Just another day at the office for these officers. You may know that striking and holding huge, sometimes violent, demonstrations is practically the national pastime here. The Paris police have had lots of experience in dealing with these events.

Incidentally, a bill is currently being proposed in France that would make it illegal to disseminate photographs or videos identifying police and gendarmes “with intent to harm” and critics have warned it’s a danger to press freedom. So, it’s possible that, in the future, a photo like the one I posted above could land me in hot water.

Adieu Canterbury

My original plans called for me to leave the U.K. for Paris on November 2nd. However, the French government announced a second national lockdown to begin at midnight on October 29th so I moved my departure up a few days.

As it happened, the U.K. government announced their own stricter measures the next week, so my jump to Paris was timely both coming and going.

After two months at the great Inspired House Airbnb in Canterbury, I packed up and took a local train to London’s St. Pancras International station, then checked in for my 12:30pm Eurostar train to Paris. Due to the pandemic, Eurostar has reduced their hourly train schedule to just two runs each way, per day, so I wasn’t sure how crowded the train might be.

My check-in and boarding went smoothly, masks on everyone, and I was quite happy to find that there were just six of us in a train car with 40 seats. There was plenty of room to spread out. The Eurostar staff, as usual, was superb and they served us a good lunch. So much nicer than flying!

I arrived in Paris at Gare du Nord to find two things: a terrorist attack in Nice had everyone on edge, resulting in lots of armed police at key locations and intersections, and that half the city was trying to get out of town before the midnight lockdown went into effect. What would normally have been a 30-minute Uber ride to my friend’s apartment in the 15th arrondissment took 90-minutes, through some epic traffic jams.

So here I am again, locked down in Paris. As it was last spring, we can only go out in public for one of seven reasons (grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, 1-hour of exercise, etc.) and have to carry a special form (on our mobile phones) when we do. No big deal, really. Grocery stores, bakeries, butchers, and wine shops are all considered essential and remain open. Sadly, museums, restaurants, bars, and department stores are not.

But, I’m with my friend Marti and we’re perfectly safe and enjoying life. More observations from Paris later.