Saturday May 5 and Sunday May 6
On this May day, the last day, a full day, a full meal. I continued my search for the 1968 revolution and found May 68:Pano Ne Passera Pas, a film showing at Le Saint André des Arts Cinema. The day would include the film, a walk to the store Merci for present buying and finally, packing. But much much more filled my last twelve hours afoot in Paris.
The film was scheduled for noon. The walk to the cinema located on Rue Saint André des Arts took less time than I allotted, so I walked around the block a few times and made a few discoveries. On one of my rounds, I passed a restaurant, Allard, a familiar name. Almost a decade ago, I had wanted to have a meal there but it never came to pass. Carpe Diem. I must have my last meal at Allard. Inside the restaurant, cooks scrambled. I approached the receptionist. Alas, the only available seating was at 9. Too late for me.
Disappointed, I walked around the block again and found a tree lined square, a good place to while away a half hour. I sat down at a café and ordered tea. After some eavesdropping and people gawking, I decided to call Allard and give it one more try. Success. A table at 7 was available.
At the cinema, there was some confusion about which door to enter. It was guarded enthusiastically by a rather fierce woman. “Non, non, interdit” she called loudly and with disdain from the ticket window. Several people, old enough to have participated in May 68, stood talking to each other oblivious to the drama. Finally, we were allowed to go through the “right door.”
The film reminded me of the American film, Medium Cool. Both involved a journalist trying to cover an event in 1968. In the French film, it is the revolution unfolding in the streets: in Medium Cool, it was the 1968 Democratic Convention, a revolution of sorts with similar violence between students, activists and the authorities. Both journalist were seeking to tell the truth while being hindered by their workplace. Both films use fiction and documentary throughout the narrative. I felt right at home.
The same people I had observed outside were the filmmakers who spoke after the film. They agreed it could not be made today as such a revolution couldn’t take place. We are too carefully monitored. C’est dommage.
I walked to Merci by crossing Pont Saint Michel to Boulevard de Palais. At the intersection with Rue de Lutèce a poster announced an exhibit devoted to May 1968 at the Préfecture de Police. C’est bizarre. I went in and was invited to see “Derrière Les Boucliers” or Behind the Shields, that is, a look at the events of May 1968 from the perspective of the police. The exhibit through sound and images immersed me, put me on the streets with a barrage of noise, cobblestones being thrown, tear gas exploding, screams of protest and pain from students attacked by police.
Stunned, I walked to Merci, the upscale hip store where I bought presents for friends and family. As I left the store at the Boulevard Beaumarchais exit, I saw protesters against French President Macran had filled the streets. I joined them and like the citoyens and citoyennes of 68, I was faced with the “shields.” However, no violence.
I rushed home, changed, and got to Allard on time. The intimate restaurant seemed to be divided into two sections. I was placed with the tourists. Americans to my left and right and down a table or two a woman whose companion was a large teddy bear. She asked the waiter to take a photo of the two of them.
I ordered an expensive first course of asparagus with hollandaise, the most exquisitely cooked asparagus I’ve every eaten and the saltiest hollandaise. The salinity continued throughout the meal. I had to say something: my meal cost well over 100 Euros. I asked the waiter if I could speak to him using French so as not to make a scene with the other English speakers. I explained about the seasoning: he was surprised but offered an explanation. They use salted butter from Normandy. When I raised my eyebrows, he agreed to talk with the chef. Later I discovered that the woman I had seen earlier in the kitchen was the well known chef Fanny Herpin and that Allard was now under the auspices of Alain Ducasse who vowed to save traditional French restaurants. At one time, Allard had been in the same family for close to 50 years.
Paris, a city of contradictions: strikes and privilege, liberty, tradition, anarchy. All in one day
I walked home through cool night air and spent the rest of the night packing. I had an 8:00 AM taxi for my noon flight. Luckily, I awoke at 3 A.M. and looked at my phone. My flight had been cancelled. After furiously phoning the airline, I was able to rebook for a 9 A.M. flight. But how to get there. How to get a cab by 6 A.M.? Another stroke of luck, par hasard, I found the security guard who was able to get me a taxi.
At the airport, I discovered that due to strikes, all flights on United from Paris had been cancelled. I was on the only one that left that day.
I got the last seat on the plane, facing a bulkhead. At a loss as to how to handle the devices, that is, the location of the television and the tray for meals, I sighed loudly. The passenger next to me gallantly helped me arrange myself. He was lanky, laconic, and spoke with a west Texas drawl.
He’d spent a week in Paris with his wife who was seated on his other side. When asked how he liked the city, he replied, “Well the wife likes museums and I just go along to keep her happy.” Welcome home to a part of America, a kindly man with graceful manners, and a willingness to accommodate. Another country filled with contradicitons.