Monday, June 22, 2009

There's a riot going on

Paris anarchist demonstration

The annual La Fête de la Musique in Paris is a celebration of all things musical, but at least in our neighbourhood of Beaubourg it started out as something completely different.

Created in 1982 and running every year since, La Fête de la Musique is a free event, open to amateur or professional musicians. It contains participants from all musical genres and as such is aimed at a large audience, working to popularise musical practice for young and not so young people from all social backgrounds.

The musical events were scheduled to commenced at 3pm, so a friend of mine, Jean-Pierre, and I arranged to meet up at that time at a venue in Beaubourg which was meant to have bands commencing at that time. Sadly they were a few hours behind schedule (even though the day hadn’t even begun) and even the DJ hadn’t been set up.

My Electro Kitchen

Another reason Jean-Pierre and I arranged to meet early was to conduct our weekly French-English conversation. Jean-Pierre is holidaying with his family in New York soon and wants to improve his English and obviously I want to improve my French language skills.

So we decided to wander around the Centre Georges Pompidou and the nearby streets, drinking a café at the always very popular Café Beaubourg, watching the street performers and basically watching the world go by. Jean-Pierre is also a very talented photographer, you can see some of his work here, so he was also taking the opportunity to capture some moments.

the magic hasn't really started yet

As we wandered around we could hear loud bangs and see wisps of smoke from the direction of Chatalet. About 10 minutes later a group of several hundred (700 according to the police) demonstrators made their way past us towards Rue de Renard. They were travelling with flares and smoke grenades, which made for an interesting spectacle, but we certainly weren’t expecting what was to come.

Paris anarchist demonstration

After the excitement of the demonstration, Jean-Pierre and I decided to go and listen to some music and headed back to the alleyway where the bands were meant to be playing. There was a dj in action, so we hung around there listening to the tunes and waiting for Jean-Pierre’s family who were planning to join us on our walk through the musical world of La Fête de la Musique.

Paris anarchist demonstration

In the meantime I had received a text from Elizabeth telling me that there was now a riot going on outside our apartment, with a government building being attacked by the demonstrators.

Paris anarchist demonstration outside our apartment

Elizabeth was safely tucked away in our apartment watching the show and Jean-Pierre was looking for his family.

By this time there was a helicopter hovering above, although we couldn’t hear any noise above the sound of the dj. By the time Jean-Pierre’s family arrived, only minutes later, the demonstrators were hurtling their way through the alley where we were gathered.

I caught a small amount of this on video, but they were lighting fires and knocking over everything in their path on the way down the street, so I thought it prudent to put my camera away.

After the demonstrators had rushed through, and we all had stood around a little flabbergasted and comparing opinions on what had happened, we were suddenly surrounded by the riot police, who were of the mistaken belief that we were the rioters they were searching for.

photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre at

It took them several minutes of being scoffed at by our group, who were obviously gathered to enjoy the music, before they stormed off, leaving the fires and minor devastation left in the alleyway by the anarchists to be managed by the organisers of the music event.

George Pompidou Centre after the demonstration

As we made our way back towards my apartment we could see some of the devastation left after the riot and were constantly blocked and redirected by the police and realised that there wasn’t going to be any music in our little corner of Paris for some time yet.

can't get home this way

After the demonstration was well and truly over and all of the participants had scattered to various parts of Paris there remained a high police presence in the area

... too late one thinks.

Anarchist demonstration in Beaubourg during La Fete de la Musique ... the aftermath ... Rue Du Renard and the view from our apartment

But the damage assessors were on the job very soon afterwards. By this stage I still hadn't seen any live music.

demonstration aftermath outside our apartment

And as I post this blog entry it is almost 24 hours later and none of the smashed windows have been repaired yet.

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