It was a great start to the year. I landed in France on the morning of January 6th, spent the night at my old friend (and bass player) Christophe Garreau’s adorable little “pied a terre” (studio) in the 14th arrondissement otherwise referred to as Montparnasse. I had dinner with my very close friend of 30 years and musical partner Vincent Bucher and his family who live right next door. He was about to leave Paris to play in NYC and on the Blues Cruise with The Heritage Blues Orchestra.
I awoke and got a fresh baguette and made some strong black tea. The jet-lag was doing it’s normal: I can’t sleep but I’m exhausted act and the caffeine buzz from my PG Tips was a welcome burst. I packed what I needed for the 5 days in Switzerland and knew I had to leave for Gare de Lyon by 1pm to make my train to Baden, Switzerland, about 30 minutes from Zurich.
On my way to the station I had no idea that a few blocks away in the 11th arr. 12 people employed by Charlie Hebdo the satirical political cartoon newspaper had just been assassinated. Oblivious I fell into a deep sleep only to be awakened by the train controller who wanted to see my ticket. It wasn’t until I had arrived at my gracious host’s house in Baden that I hooked up to wifi and got an alert from the New York Times that there had been a massacre.
After a lovely dinner with my host the band leader and guitar man for Rotosphere, Nic Niedermann and his family, I fell asleep not realizing the full weight of what had happened in Paris, after all 12 young black and brown youth die every weekend on the South and West sides of Chicago in the summertime.
The next day brought rehearsal and a show at the Joy Club in the Grand Casino in Baden. Rotosphere had done their homework and we had an excellent show! We ate at the casino and the star of that show was a couple of bottles Amarone from Italy! It is a later harvested, giant, dry red wine from the Valpolicella wine region. They let the grapes dry on straw mats before pressing. Yummm. The next evening we played a small club in Zurich and the band started to get tighter. So we all agreed we had to book a tour down the line with way more than two gigs! I look forward to it greatly!
I left Baden early in the morning on Sunday and headed back to Paris. I had been alerted to the fact that I was arriving on the day of a demonstration of historical proportions. I got off the SNCF train and headed through Gare de Lyon to the Metro and stopped to buy tickets first. My “chipless” bankcard doesn’t work in Europe so I went to the ticket booth to get some Metro tickets. The lady said it was not necessary for today as all trains were free for the “manif” (a diminutive of “manifestation” the French word for demonstration.) I got excited. Being used to the normal obstructionism I have encountered in the States towards demonstrators, it was almost exotic to experience the powers that be actually facilitating a protest. I would later rethink this as I saw footage of 12 heads of repressive states leading the march.
I got back to my little crib in Montparnasse, dropped off my luggage, slammed a glass of Cotes de Blaye to help keep me warm on a cold, clear Paris day and headed straight to the manif. It was chaos in the Metro. They were closing one line after another and redirecting folks. So I did what all good Americans do for once…I followed the crowd. We got to the Metro Bastille and started flowing with the crowd toward the heart of the Demonstration.
I noticed that there were almost as many people coming towards me as there were people walking with me. “C’est blocke” (block-kay), “it’s blocked” was issued from several people heading back up the street. I finally made it to Boulevard Voltaire and avenue Ledru Rollin where the “blockage” was and saw one of the largest public assemblies I have ever seen. There were people for blocks all peacefully waiting to be allowed to continue marching. On veut marche!! On veut marche!!” was being chanted and soon the powers that be acquiesced and the march continued.
I saw plain clothed police officers in a human chain with banners stating that they were in mourning for their fallen comrades. All kinds of posters and signs: “Je Suis Charlie”, “Je suis Juif”, “Je suis flic”, “We are the critical spirit”, “Love is stronger than hatred”.
As the sun began to set and the Parisian chill started to enter my body I tried to find an open Metro to get me back to my warm little studio in Montparnasse. I kept asking the Military Police (Gendarmes) directions. Even with their sub machine guns they just seemed more approachable than a normal beat cop in Chicago. All were very polite and took time to direct me. I must have walked a couple of mile before finding an open Metro. As I reflected upon free speech, the similarities between public reaction to 911 and the Hebdo massacre, Nationalism and the dangers that lurk when extremely complex issues are reduced to sloganism, I was ready for another glass of wine and my favorite part of being in France…dinner.