polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

All Quiet on the Parisian Front

by Alex Schafran

I took a trip today down to the famed Bastille, still the symbolic heart of French protest, even if the prison is long gone. French "indignados" had occupied a portion of the place — which, in a critical post-Haussmannian note, is really a traffic circle at the intersection of multiple boulevards rather than a large public plaza in the Spanish style — in solidarity with Spanish protesters and the general simmering anger that seems to be a part of urban life in so many places in 2011.

All that was left of the protesters were a few pieces of butcher block paper asking what you would do if your income was secure and expressing solidarity with the poor and ownership of the streets. The riot police, still dressed like comic book super heroes, seemed to be giving directions to tourists now that they had cleared the roughly 1000 people from the steps of the horrendously ugly Opera House. Traffic sputtered around the Bastille, now rendered as just another statue in just another place in a city with droves of both.

I am not sure why the police cleared the protesters when they did, but my wife thinks it has something to do with the big crafts and antiquities markets scheduled to open this week. Paris loves its markets even more than it loves to protest, and the ability of the city to quickly return to commercial life, bourgeois and otherwise, is phenomenal.

But it seems clear that even if the unemployment rate here is not what it is in Spain (or the US even), and even if this generation of French youth are not suffering like their Spanish counterparts, all is not perfect in a city that seems better than any other at giving off the veneer of perfection. This will certainly be an interesting summer on the streets of the world's capitals, and I think, for many of us, the question of a blogger back in February, in the wake of Tunisia and Egypt and Wisconsin, is apt: "Will 2011 rock the world like 1968?" We shall see.

Credits: Photos by Alex Schafran.