On every photographer's bucket list should be covering a good protest in Paris - mace, clowns, late night coq au vin, airborne cobblestones, washing teargas out of your eyes in fountains at Notre Dame at 1am. Watching them unfold again this month after President Macron's government rammed through retirement age changes, sent me archive digging for the riots that rocked the city in 2006 when the government attempted, and failed, to change labor laws. A month of tear gassing and macing later, the government backed down. We were still living in Paris at the time with our then 8 month old kid Zoe, so every evening I had to be careful not to wear maced or tear gassed clothing into the apartment; I'd bag it up at the apartment entrance before jumping into the shower to wash off any residue.
Travel writer and TV host Rick Steve's recently wrote that experiencing a strike or protest in France should be viewed not as a frustration, but as a cultural experience. The riots I covered also took me all over the city, late at night, and taught me how to copy protesters and learn to spot fountains in case I had to wash my eyes out after getting maced. Late night brasseries offering a glass of wine outside also allowed quick breaks when the action slowed down. Very civilized rioting by any measure.
Most interesting part of the experience was after Time Magazine ran an image of plain clothes police macing protesters and me (seen here), one of the policemen wrote me a very earnest, hand written letter apologizing (he's on the right in the frame), but asking if he could have a printed copy of the photo. Since the letter was written in very formal and polite French (and was sadly lost during our move back to the US), I could hardly say no. But dropping off the print wasn't all the les flics wanted - a glass of wine was also on order so several of the policemen took me across the street to a bar for a drink. Or two.
Indeed, a cultural experience.