Diary: Paris on strike?


By Oliver Briscoe, Third Year, Law

Oliver Briscoe writes about a recent visit to Paris with his family in the format of a personal diary. Here is the first installment where Oliver vivdly describes Parisian life and French political pressures lurking in the background.

Lundi, le 16 Decembre

St Pancras was a zoo of the masses, a menagerie of the downtrodden, a cast from Hugo or Zola and a far-cry from the gentle Proustian stream of the Paris I once called home.

‘Greta Thunberg, like Boris Johnson, offers us do-or-die’. I wondered whether Brexit would be better for the environment. The cheese and wine may get more expensive, though. My musings trailed as we shot out of the tunnel, left behind unspoken for fear of exasperating my sister.

Mutters on Paris painted a scene of harsh bracing winds, the sound of grinding standstill and the clash of revolution

We had expected the transport strikes and chaos; mutters on Paris painted a scene of harsh bracing winds, the sound of grinding standstill and the clash of revolution–coal blackened, kerchiefed conductors, mobilised under the homespun, quilted banners of the IIIrd International. Instead we slipped into an empty Gare du Nord, joking about the dinner our grandmother might have prepared for us - that simple salad and a baguette with pates au beurre. Above, the clocks struck with the lost hour in a deep Christmas darkness. Beyond, from the glass and iron beams which thatched the platform, we were enveloped by warmth.

At the end of the quay, we were met by a cheerful driver who stole us away and sped towards home, babbling affably. We cut through a mild Paris, sedate and scintillating, with the comfort of many memories. We were children again, staring in awe out of the windows. Shop fronts gleamed with Christmas spirited displays, bright snowflakes fell in a lit-up staccato across a Chanel poster, pulled taut over the side of pre-Haussmann buildings. Each building illuminated like museum artefacts.

We dined intimately; cheese, baguette, saucisson, Beaujolais Nouveau and éclairs.

Where were the rank and file members, reportedly assembled for the long fight? Trying to overturn the injustice of no longer being able to retire at fifty, long after the replacement of coal train?

Our grandparents came out to meet us at the thick oak door to the apartment that once might have opened for coaches. We dined intimately; cheese, baguette, saucisson, Beaujolais Nouveau and éclairs. Comforted by the familiar art, sheets, food and rooms each in padded cloth, christened by their colour yellow, red, and blue.

Mardi le 17 Decembre

"Invited by a member of L’Assemblée, we could not have been given a better tour..." | Epigram / Oliver Briscoe

Waking on the better side of mid-morning, Tuesday started and continued outside, beyond the single pane windows with the ambient sound of Parisian activity.

Our first outing of the day - having eaten breakfast of tartines au beurre et chocolat, performing our ablutions and toiletries in peace, at different ends of the apartment - was a visit to the Palais Bourbon. Invited by a member of L’Assemblée, we could not have been given a better tour short of being with our host Gilles, as he sent his two knowledgeable and easy staffers to guide us. Neither rushed, nor disturbed we awed all around at our personal pleasure.

Thanks to the nebulous blockades, we found the palace emptied of other visitors. Alone and unbothered we roamed around the ornate ‘Monarchie Républicaine’ edifice. Part of it had once been the residence of Louise Françoise de Montespan, the legitimised daughter of Louis XVI. The adjacent building was the residence of Marquis Lassay, placed proximately to maintain their friendship. The palaces now make up the principle building of the several that embody the L’Assemeblée Nationale, renovated by Jules de Joly under the restored Bourbon monarchy.

Gilles later joined us for lunch at the Bourbon brasserie, cornering off the square facing the portico of honour, where he stopped to shake many hands as he made his way through our centre table–courtesy of my aunt, a well known face amongst the waiters, a regular who hobnobs every morning in and amongst the political crowd.

He talked affably and attentively to everyone braking a thin, curled, almost lip-less smile which drooped down his long intellectual face, sagging under a determined forehead of light brown locks and horn-rimmed spectacles.

We discussed his political views and by some extent the Government’s view of the strikes. Manifesting themselves in a passing flurry of CGT (The General Confederation of Labour) banners from outside the Bourbon, as Gilles spoke their fate.

Outside the Assemblée Nationale | Epigram/ Oliver Briscoe

After an indulgence of café gourmands and café liegois, Gilles dashed off to prepare for the afternoon’s Prime Minister’s Questions. We lay comfortably in the mahogany and leather for a couple of minutes more before making our own way back to the Palace. We had also been invited to spectate, languidly on the velvet benches, the afternoon session.

Back from a long afternoon, we arrived home, deflated. The apartment–on the first floor, which was desirable when elevators were built out of wood and brass cages–was a sanctuary, at peace from the trickle of the bourgeoisie along the boulevard and from the footfall of civil servants from the nearby ministries.

We dined at the café au coin en famille with a ballon or two of rouge. On display were the beautiful young couples and elegant older ones. The sound of rustling chairs, kisses and heels at the curbside filled the restaurant. We saw  these intimate moments played out effortlessly on the pavement. Tourists long for their lives to be so dramatic–especially the Americans - as we sat, part of the scene...

Featured Image credit: Epigram/ Oliver Briscoe

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