Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Paris Is Burning

My trip is done – Berlin, Hamburg, Paris – a rich experience, in forms both direct and mediated. Again I realize that for all I have learned, more in fact that I can tell, it is only scratching the surface of a vast networked cultural and political resistance tradition, a resistance that, having been denied systemic political outlets, has perforce become cultural and sportive. Stick this in your “creative city” and smoke it!
My hosts in Paris were in La Générale which is actually in Sèvres, across the river from the last metro stop. Their place is at the end of a rather harrowing walk along a metropolitan super-highway, towards forbidding looking corporate towers. I'm sorry, but Sèvres sucks. Along the Grand Rue one morning, I walked for an hour and could not find a cafe I wanted to have a coffee in. The mad expensive ones inside the corporate Novotel across the street were out of the question. After I passed the morning forest of salarymen on cel phones out front of the hotel, I walked on past sad businesses with bright neon-colored paper signs in profusion. The town seemed full of sour looking people, and devoid of interesting shops. Above the street, as if on cliffs, are obviously charming palaces – Louis Philippe's was here. But you are not invited. I don't know what is supposed to be going on in this town; some big schools and buildings with the ugliest architecture I've seen in a long while, kind of like parts of East Berlin or Poland, without those countries' good excuse for official ugliness.
But it wasn't always like this. Later, in a chat with Eric at La Générale, I am told that Sèvres was once a Red town (communist municipal government). The factories were here, and much social housing. Then suddenly the Renault plant was razed – it was a scandal at the time... During those “good old days,” there was a squatted street, or street with many squats – Rue des Caves... all evicted, and renamed “Rue des Caves de Roi” – like only the king ever stored wine here; revanchism with a capital R.
The artists of La Générale squatted a grand empty building in Belleville, central Paris some years back, and got popular. With wild parties attended by movie stars, they became hard to ignore. They were given short-term tenure in an abandoned school of ceramics behind the sprawling royal manufactory of porcelain that sits below Versailles, and began La Générale en Manufacture. All is quiet now, as the artists tiptoe around the listed historical building, making art and music in the light-filled premises. The theater people waited a couple of years, and then were given a building to continue normally. All of this history was laid out for me in a wonderful interview with the artists which will appear in “House Magic” #3. (I'm working on it now, rather than waiting like I did in July – with the consequence that all the Hamburg stuff didn't come out.)
I was welcomed by Jerome Guigue, Michel Chevalier's compadre. He was busy with his new baby, however, and Eric Lombard took over as my genial host. Eric is a punk connoisseur, and former co-conspirator in the Montreuil art squat Zoumééééé. Béatrice toured me around underground Paris, to Radio Libertaire, the “voice of the anarchist federation,” where I talked about “House Magic” and she translated. A rare honor, to be sure. Beatrice also took me to meet Anna in Montreuil, where we toured shuttered former squats, ending up at an apartment complex occupied by Malian immigrant laborers. The place, near metro Robespierre, had been opened by squatters who lived with the immigrants for a while before turning the place over to Bambara elders. Paris is the “second city” of Mali.
The next day we visited a newly opened squat in Fontenay, at the opposite end of Paris, in a former Catholic school that is awaiting transfer to the municipality. The house is across from the train station, and immediately identifiable by the red and black flags flying from its towers. Inside a handsome grubby bunch of young people, French, mostly but with a sprinkling of travelers from other nations – including two Russians. They were holding seminars on Marx's “Capital,” and the library is already full of books after only two weeks in occupation. (I saw Lefebvre's “Production of Space,” a theory of self-reflection for these guys.) There seems a chance to develop the place as a community center, open the door and let vendors sell in there, start a garden cafe, a library, a school for liberation education. But the squatters are young, and spoke self-consciously of their lack of unity. They were political kraakers, pure and simple, and they expect to be evicted. Someone else would have to do the job of insurrectionary urban development.
After spooning soup with the Fontenay occupiers, and washing some of their mountainous dishes in return – (I always feel compelled to do this when I eat with young anarchist squatters), I was invited to visit another. We rolled out to metro Bastille (do we see a pattern in these names?), to Le Bourdon-l'Arsenal, also festooned with red and black flags and defiant graffiti. The place has seen some memorable parties downstairs. Their logo is a deer in the street, fist raised beside a pile of burning debris. Behind the deer-person, what looks like a line of police with riot shields stand in front of a line of barbed wire -- or is it a crowd behind the animal? Maybe I am reading a cheerful fatalism into this image... I waited with the squatters for dinner. They were chatting and joking, and nervously looking out the window. The occupation had lost in court, and was awaiting eviction. “Ah, there's the flics now, across the street.” Very tense – really like a play of theater.
I am not really into talking about folks getting beaten and killed and all. “Accentuate the positive” is my motto. But it can be hard to avoid. I was looking for some photos of the Paris cops I saw at a recent demonstration for Côte d'Ivoire at metro stop Nation. (Mine were wretched and fearful.) But when I Googled for them, I got instead Washington D.C. police. Ugly? Yeah. I mean, these guys watched "Star Wars" and identified with Darth Vader. (They like black.) They do look exactly like the cops in Paris, except the French were dangling more guns. What's up with this shit? It takes Germans to tell the tale, Germany where cops like to visit bookstores and take things so others can't read them. From the University of Göteborg Resistance Studies Network, an article on how Richmond, Virginia police consider demonstrators terrorists, and warn of the new “methods of assembly” they are using. (Cel phones? Email lists? Blogs? “Can U Rd This?”) This is old news – January, '11. And uncovered by anarchists of the Wingnut Collective using Freedom of Information statutes. I wonder if these innovative police are in Bahrain and Syria now studying new methods of crowd control? Yes, well, sometimes you just have shoot people.

Le squat de la rue des caves à l'honneur
although my French is wretched, you can see a chronological illustrated presentation here. This website is part of – http://sevres2006.over-blog.com/ext/http://www.lemonde.fr/web/vi/0,47-0@2-3246,54-946861@51-947082,0.html – which appears to be part of a 2007 Le Monde series on "Squats d'artistes, la culture en friche."

La Générale en Manufacture

Radio Libertaire, 89.4, la voix de la fédération anarchiste

Le Bourdon-l'Arsenal OSC

Resistance Studies Network

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