Paris Fire Brigade vs Paris Police
In central Paris the other day I was in the middle of one of the strangest situations I've ever witnessed. Now, strikes and protests are a dime a dozen on Parisian streets and it seems a week isn't complete without a good ol' civic uprising. It might even be written into the constitution somewhere. Students storm the barricades as a integral component of their undergrad degrees, farmers have a trip to Paris to upset the city-folk etched into their calendars and racial minorities just love the feel of a police baton on the back of their collective heads.
C'est la vie in Paris, it seems.
But I was genuinely surprised on Tuesday when, upon noticing a bit of a brouhaha emanating from the end of the long street on which I was walking, I decided to check out the cause of the commotion. It turned out not to be a bunch of students protesting that they can't access MySpace on the uni computers, nor was it the usual rag-tag bunch of leather-jacket-wearing vegetarians, neo Nazis and miscellaneous fight-seeking thugs arking up against globalisation and smashing the window of Starbucks (after getting a coffee first, of course.)
No siree. This was a protest of a difference and I couldn't work it out at first. I saw loads of police, I saw loads of firemen. I couldn't see who was protesting. Then I realised … hang on a sec: the firemen were the ones protesting. And they were making a fair bloody fist of it.
This was no vaguely orderly march through the streets, chanting union slogans and perving on the office girls, as I imagine would happen in Australia. Nope, this was pretty much a full-scale riot. The air was filled with smoke from dozens of red flares which were adding a surreal glow to proceedings, there were riot police charging everywhere, there were pitched fist fights between the fireys and the cops ... and amazingly, there were scores of things set alight.
Yep, who the hell do you call to put out a fire that has been started by the city's firemen? Forget the chicken and egg question; that would bamboozle both Edward de Bono and Alain de Botton.
It was truly violent and although the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns Aussies to steer clear of "civic disturbances" when overseas, this was just too good to leave, and the often dormant journo in me couldn't resist getting closer and watching the action.
Take a look at some press coverage of the action http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,450113,00.html
To me it was just unbelievable to see police and firefighters going at it. It seemed totally incongruous, something that went against some fundamental idea of "rightness" in my head. I mean, I know, in Australia at least, firefighters and police have markedly different types of people in their ranks, but by and large they work together and I suppose you could say that they are peas from virtually the same pod.
Just one of the many fundamental cultural differences between the two countries I suppose. Oh and there's possibly another. I'm not sure whether you would see Aussie firefighters employing the good ol' "brown eye" as an means of protest, but have a look at the photos on that link. But then again, maybe these blokes have more in common with Aussies after all.
Next thing you know, they might even attempt the legendary "Dance of the Flaming A*#hole" …