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the general dream

If this is May 1st, it must be Demonstration Day in Paris. It’s a holiday, most stores are closed and the sun is shining, so I thought I’d go for a peaceful walk, have a café somewhere … started on another little pilgrimage, to find 74 rue Cardinale Lemoine not far from here, where Hemingway and his wife lived above a restaurant. As I wandered, I passed a tall bit of old stone wall – from 12th century fortifications, the sign read, built to protect the city while the king went on the Crusades. Today is a big day for lily of the valley – the streets are full of adults and children, selling bouquets. I thought fondly of my front yard in Toronto, a carpet of sweet lilies by now.

And then I ran straight into the demonstration – heating up on the Boul’ Mich’, waiting for the main crowd to march from Denfert-Rochereau and join them, when all would march across the river to the Bastille for speeches. I asked a sweet-faced young Socialist what was going on. “Well, there’s always a march May 1st,” he said, “but it’s particularly important this year because of Sarko.” I asked why. “Because Sarko is giving credit to the banks but nothing to the workers, to the poor. All we want is a more just society, less for the rich, more for the unemployed, the poor, the students and the workers.”
Ah, sweetheart. So do we all. Good luck with that.
I walked across the very crowded Jardins du Luxembourg, found 27 rue de Fleurus, home of Gertrude and Alice, an ordinary if very respectable address, and then down to the Boulevard St. Germain (eating a treat on the way – a pain aux raisins, pastry with creamy stuff and raisins.) I’d had the fond hope of sitting for a creme at Café de Flore or Aux Deux Magots, the famous cafés, but they were jammed in the spring sun. So I visited l’Eglise Saint Germain des Pres across the street, one of the oldest churches in Paris, a Benedictine abbey for more than twelve centuries, stately, graceful, quiet, cool and dark inside, a welcome respite from the heat, noise and traffic chaos outside its walls. 
And then back through the winding streets, past the Odeon, up to Boul’ Mich’ where the march was in full swing. Everyone was wearing a big sticker on their clothes: “Reve Generale,” a word play on “greve generale,” general strike. Reve means dream. I’m not sure what “general dream” means, but it looked great on t-shirts. The marchers looked like my kind of folk, well-meaning socialist types, and I remembered being part of the same kind of crowd marching against Mike Harris. Sarko is loathed. The universities are in chaos; Lynn tells me that most of her courses at the University of Montpellier are disrupted – the buildings are locked, the week’s work is cancelled, the students at risk of losing the term or even the year. Once when she arrived to find the building blockaded, she took her students to a café and taught them there. 
I found out about the chaos myself yesterday, when I went to the Sorbonne for a seminar; Graham Swift, the British novelist, has published a book of non-fiction, essays mostly, and was here to talk about it. I’d been warned to bring a passport for identification because they’re very careful who’s allowed in and out of the universities. While I waited I walked through the halls, happy to be inside the ancient Sorbonne (founded in 1254!), where the bulletin boards were covered with signs: “Demonstration tomorrow 1 p.m.” Someone had scrawled underneath, “11.30 is better. Anarchist starting time.”
The event started late; the room we were supposed to meet in was hosting a “gravely important” meeting, so Swift’s organisers had to find somewhere else. We were told that the meeting was about “the problem of exams this year” because of the disruptions, and if the vote didn’t go the way the students wanted, it was possible the building would be invaded and we’d have to flee; that all the rooms were locked in case of trouble and we weren’t supposed to be in the building at all.  The animator remembered that the first time Swift came to talk about his work in Paris, he was caught in a strike at the airport and was seven hours late.
It was an interesting talk, about which more anon. But after more than an hour, we were indeed interrupted by a man crying, “You must evacuate immediately!” We were told that for those who purchased books, Mr. Swift would sign them in the street. 
I can hear shouting, chanting, honking and music even from here, a ten minute walk from the Boul’ Mich’, so I guess the march continues, more than an hour after I got home. There must be a million people. As I walked home, I passed the line-up of police cars, patiently waiting in the sun. Two flics were playing chess in their van. I wonder if they got to finish their game.
PS It’s now 2 hours after I got home, and on it goes. That’s some demonstration. I am now reading the marvellous “Sixty Million Frenchmen can’t be Wrong,” in an attempt to understand.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

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Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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