**don’t worry, I haven’t had any new encounters with fire!!
As I write this, I can hear loud bangs in the distance (not really sure what they are, but sounds like people throwing or breaking stuff). These past few weeks in France have been absolutely crazy (today is the 4th Saturday that the gilets jaunes have been protesting). I already covered the protests of the gilet jaunes in my last blog post, “This Girl is on Fire,” but to be honest it feels like I need to give an update because the situation here has gotten kind of insane.
Tear gas everywhere: a characteristic of the last few weeks. Burned cars, broken store windows, a torn up Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Today, none of the dozens of buses or trams are running in the center of town because they don’t want to encounter the protests (there are three different ones in Nantes happening right now, as I sit at my desk and listen to the sounds). Sirens. All the time. Police officers with huge guns. Riot gear. Couldn’t get to my university class this week because one of the high schools near it decided to protest and set trash cans on fire. On top of that, no university classes all of Thursday. Or Friday. People in Nantes couldn’t buy alcohol of any kind yesterday, nor certain things that they could use to throw at police officers. The train company is striking, so us IES students might have trouble getting home to the US at the end of next week. In short, as one my IES friends said the other day, this country has “gone to ****!”
My French professor told us that it might not seem like it now, but what we’re experiencing is history. We’re lucky to see it because it hasn’t happened on this scale for a decent amount of time, and it’ll be talked about for a long time to come. And it might be a bit far-fetched, but my art history professor compared the protests to the French Revolution (I scribbled what she said into the margins of my David notes so I could remember it for later). “Here in France,” she explained, “we’re proud of the fact that we can say no to everything and all of a sudden mobilize and get our voices across. Some of the gilet jaunes are calling for a total blockage of the whole country.”
Block everything indeed. While I haven’t been on the receiving end of many of the drawbacks that have come from this protest, and while I can watch it unfold from the perspective of a more withdrawn outsider who’s going to leave in just a week, it’s still unbelievable how much disruption that the gilet jaunes have been able to cause (it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing). As I said before, it certainly makes you question the importance of getting your opinions heard, and what the best way to do that is. I’m not convinced there’s a right or wrong answer.
It’s interesting to see how the culture differs here–I would never have imagined something like this unfolding in America, and I think manifestations are a lot more common in this country. This is a bit of an extreme case, but I think that people largely accept smaller-scaled protests as part of their lives. They just adapt and work around them when they do come up (whereas I think Americans would be a lot more aggravated!).
On the bright side, I’ve been a lot more successful in avoiding the protests than I was a few weekends ago, and honestly navigating tense situations like these just takes some awareness and smart planning. I’ve been reading lots of news! And some commutes have gotten longer and more complicated, but that’s life. Even if things seems like they’ve “gone to ****”, you can still eat your baguettes and go about your normal routine.
As classes wind down here, leaving is become more of a reality (unless my train is canceled and/or the airport is blocked by the protestors…). And even though sometimes it feels like I’m in a country plagued by chaos right now, I’d give anything to stay for just another week. The people, the culture, the language, the food, IES, the Christmas markets–I’m gonna miss all of it.
À la prochaine fois!