Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Paris Sans Papiers

I am back from ten hectic days in Pigalle, Paris. For a holiday it is quite an experience staying basically in the red light district of Paris with two small children, my wife and my mother. Days spent living not touring; we had a flat so we cooked and cleaned, shopped for food and joined the crowds on the metro and in the streets. I have quite a few stories to relate but perhaps the most interesting was what occurred after climbing the Eiffel Tower with my son (his tourist wish, not mine). We had used to stairs to get to the second platform:

So we climbed back down from there and were leaving the area below the tower. We walked into a crowd of school kids visiting the monument who were surrounded by young men selling tacky Eiffel Tower key rings, thousands of them on huge metal rings they carried around their arms. Suddenly the sellers fled in a mass panic, maybe fifteen of them just suddenly bolted, some dropped the metal rings of cheap souvenirs they carried. A group of about eight or ten police appeared from behind us chasing the fleeing sellers. Some of the police picked up the fallen rings of souvenirs and broke them open and started passing them out to the crowd watching the spectacle. The sellers had stopped running on a small hill (see the pictures below) and were yelling in French to the police as they passed out handfuls of the tiny Eifel Towers to foreign tourists. One policeman near us laughed as he did this. He approached me and my son with about five of the key rings and gave them to me, whereupon I threw them towards the sellers standing on the small hill. One of them yelled ‘Bravo’ and I did this. I felt that this was truly bizarre that if these people were indeed 'sans papiers' (as I had once been myself when I first came to Europe) why should they be humiliated in this way? The police seemed angry when I did this and they yelled at me in French (I did not understand) but they then seem to decide to do something more about the sellers standing on the hill. They ran towards them and sprayed them in the face with canisters of teargas (I am glad they did not do this to me). One policeman missed his intended target and sprayed another policeman in the face (see picture).
Out of the approximately fifteen sellers the police managed to arrest one. We continued walking out of the area and on the road there were three vans of police and in the park around the tower there were five or six soldiers with machine guns. All this for some guys selling souvenirs!!

Some of the police after the initial charge and before the use of spray. They seemed uncertain what to do.

The only arrest made was one of the sellers who had dropped his stock. He seemed extreamly concerned about it and stopped running. I assumed he would be in debt to his bosses, which could be nasty for him.

Policeman tries to wash out the gas (or spray) that his collegue hit him with.

Military were nearby but did not participate.

Three police vans waiting to receive their single prisoner.

I picked up one of the many key rings scattered on the pathway as we were finally leaving and I kept it. It is a memento of the sad incident.

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