Since Lisa and I arrived on Sunday morning we missed the gilets jaunes protests on Saturday, April 27. I had thought we were in the clear for a week, since their protests are typically on Saturdays. May 1, however, is Labor Day, a jour férié (national holiday) in France, as it is in most civilized countries. (In America, in the hope of inoculating us against Godless Communism, it’s “Law Day.”) Not only are protests scheduled for jours fériés as well as Saturdays, but the protest on May 1 was touted as an “apocalypse” of gilets jaunes ultras and anarchist “black blocs,” in addition to the large traditional march of union members and other more-or-less militant groups. Last year we headed for the march but this year we stayed far away. In the event there was much less disorder and damage than expected, and we saw no signs of protest except a phalanx of riot police on motorbikes who passed by harmlessly. I don’t mean to discount the impact of the protests, but news reports focus on exciting problems, not on the fact that 99% of a big city like Paris goes on obliviously, and for the most part happily.
One striking feature of May 1 is that muguets (lillies of the valley) are sold on every busy street corner.
I discovered this tradition during my first long stay, in 2010, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. Only this year, however, did I realize its complex historical resonance. While the muguet has long been associated with spring, before World War II May 1 was called la fête des travailleurs (Worker’s Day) and the flower most closely associated with it was the socialist emblem the red eglantine. Petain subtly changed the name to la fête du travail (Work Day) and changed the flower to the muguet. So while French people love their mugets de Mai 1, the hardest core unionists still resent the original rightist meaning.
Instead of cowering indoors we met up with Zhizhong for lunch at Le Petit Gorille, which I had enjoyed for dinner a few days before.
Midday on a jour férié was very busy, but even with that excuse the service was terrible, although the food was again quite nice.
We then strolled over to see the 64th Salon de Montrouge, a contemporary art show that I’ve visited on several other occasions. It was uneven, as usual, but nevertheless had many points of interest.
After an apéro on the pleasant terrasse of a Montrouge café we went our separate ways and called it a successful, non-apocalyptic, May Day.