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FRENCH FARCE. Part 2=LE RIOT.
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About ten minutes later we are now out in the night again, and fifteen minutes later we’re in the middle of St. Germain des pres. Wow, has this taken off! We are surging down a tiny street and we’re in the middle of a gigantic teen-age riot. I’m in a genuine riot. You keep hearing about teen-age riots? It’s a nameless, formless riot. The riots most of us are used to are riots with a purpose. This particular indignity or this particular civil right, this particular thing. And I was right there when it started. Right at the minute it started—in the middle of this thing. And we are surging down this narrow street and through it there are about seventy-five guys driving Renaults, Fiats, a guy with a Ferrari who looks like an Arabian prince on his night out and he’s with this nine-year-old girl and the people are jumping on the hoods and there are kids running around, all of them looking vaguely alike—it’s very difficult. If you think we’re having trouble here, it is almost totally impossible to tell a French male from a French female if they’re under eighteen. Impossible! You can get yourself into some very embarrassing situations in France. So here they are surging, yelling. And I’m in the middle of this with the French count and I say, “How the hell did I get myself in this?”
I’m with a count, with Felipe and Girard, and now Girard is beginning to get very angry at the Corsican because now it’s getting a little late and he wants to take his wife home and he realizes the hobby has gone far enough now. You sense any minute now that violence is going to break out in our own little crowd, and we are looking for our car which we have lost, and we are surging down through this little street when suddenly somebody starts yelling from an upper story window. He pears out and I think, what’s going to happen?
The crowd looks up and this guy has a great big pan full of hot water. Shoooom! Down it comes on the crowd and it lands all over me and about forty-five other guys, and instantly there’s a riot.
Paris riot, May, 1968
Instantly it starts to go and I hear windows crashing in and I hear that sound—have you ever been in the middle of a rolling, senseless violence? That sound—you hear that Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! and you see guys jumping up with that wild-eyed look and everybody’s in a nutty way when that happens. There’s always one group of people who enjoys it wildly and they begin to lash out, they begin to grab chicks, and you hear windows crashing and you hear AHOOAHOOAHOOAHOOAHOO, the French gendarme approaching with that really frightening riot car. They have about three different types of cars but they have one kind of horn that goes AHOOAHOOAHOOAHOOAHOO. It just goes insanely, and the lights are flashing and the gendarmes rush out and we surge down the street in the direction of our car and my coat is wet and I’ve been wounded in action—the whole business—and Girard’s coat has been torn and you see this wild, moiling gang of teenagers leaping up and down on the hood of a Jaguar—a beautiful XKE that is being destroyed by the mob. Some poor guy had left his car parked up on the sidewalk, you know how they do in the middle of the great big Saturday night scene in places like the Village and places like the Left Bank and these kids are jumping up and down on the hood and the policemen are coming. Oh, that poor guy. And I can hear AHOOAHOOAHOOAHOOAHOO, wild screaming French imprecations, and now all the people in the apartments above us begin to pour stuff down on the streets.
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Five minutes later we’re back in the car and we’re heading for the apartment after our wild night. After our night in “Le Drugstore,” “Paris 2,” the riot, and we are heading back towards the apartment and what is left of the cold chicken.
And with that, Reno turns to me and he says, “Of course zis kind of scene, zis never happened till the American was here.” And I didn’t see an American face anywhere. All those French faces, you know, yelling and screaming and breaking the windows. He says, “Zis did not happen until the American was here.”
I say, “Well, I guess it didn’t happen till I showed up tonight. Probably true.” And I bow down and I realize that the life of the American in 1966 ain’t easy.
I could see the lights in the sky as the kids were burning down the town, and the Eifel Tower was toppling, and we drove back toward that quiet apartment. Tomorrow night I’ll tell you the story of the French desert and the hang up that all the French have, and what they think of as the American Wild West.
I don’t know why people pay money to go to Disneyland when there’s nothing in Disneyland that even remotely approaches real life—for fantasy, for ecstasy, for passion, for exoticism, for eroticism—the whole long line, the whole plastic scene of the mid-1960s. “Zis is zee American hippy approach, you know.”
[ “The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay,
No matter how they change her,
I’ll remember her that way.”
–by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1940.]