A real village, built at the Châtelet, in the center of Paris.
It is a real village – I wouldn’t call it simply an encampment – fully equipped to facilitate the permanence of the Extinction Rebellion people.
There are tents, small yurtas, improvised but well-tended gardens, spaces dedicated to debates; toilets, meeting points, a medical center and even a cellar; and a gratuiterie where warm clothes are available in case of a cold night.
The slogans are as varied and colorful as the new residents of Châtelet. Some “hardcore” mottoes; and more reasoned ones. The main goal is printed on the banner that crosses the rue de Rivoli at the corner of Boulevard Sébastopol where the crowd is. “CHANGE OF PRIORITY.” Accordingly, the symbol of the movement is a stylized hourglass.
The prefecture has banned the rally scheduled for the morning. It doesn’t matter. The rebels soon reorganize, call a meeting right under the banner.
There is no shadow of the gilet jaunes here: just some hasty tags on a bus shelter. Gilets orange are what the people of the order service are wearing, and peaceful protesters are on stage.
After adjusting the amplification system, a skinny and whiskered blond young man takes the microphone and starts a rap with ecological rhymes for the crowd that is beginning to gather.
His militant lyrics reach beyond the Fontaine du Châtelet to the Pont au Change, which is blocked at the end of the Quai de l’Horloge by the offshoots of the Extinction Rebellion village.
While two young men are intent on cleaning the stone parapet of the old bridge, smudged by tags, a gilet orange shows an alternative way to the Île de la Cité to an Asian tourist in fluent English. Two dogs play nearby following in the footsteps of passers-by while their masters kneel on the pavement creating new tatzebaos.
Persons who are just curious mingle with activists. Someone asks questions. Someone else takes pictures. Here and there you can see the discreet presence of reporters ready to collect impressions and news on the events of the day.
In rue de Rivoli a lady in a raincoat is bent over the asphalt intent on leaving a mark of her militant participation: “REBEL FOR LIFE.” On a window “ANIMAL REBELLION – INSURRECTION – STOP FARMING/LIVESTOCK AND FISHING.” To partially shade an igloo tent decorated with a red and black ladybug-style motif another banner announces: “HERE WE CULTIVATE.” Less than ten meters away, a field with timid plants sprouting out of the humid dark soil.
The attention returns to the rue de Rivoli where the young rapper calls another person to the center of the scene.
A girl announces the name of Carola Rackete.
The brave German captain of the rescue boat Sea Watch 3 timidly emerges from the crowd with her long dreads. She smiles as she advances with a firm step. The signs of the judicial events of the summer – linked to the rescue of migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea – left memories on her young face. Her eyes reveal the ideals in which she believes and for which she fights.
She greets everybody and announces that she will make her speech in French, apologizing for her pronunciation, holding a smartphone with the text of her speech.
Carola speaks for about ten minutes: she tells about her commitment to the environmental cause – she spent time at the North Pole studying the effects of pollution on ice – and underlines how the phenomenon of migration has always been linked to environment and climate changes. Saving people at sea is simply the logical consequence of her environmental activism.
Someone is preparing a question.
I take some pictures.
I take one frame in particular.
At the back of my mind a painting preserved in the Louvre Museum, just a few hundred meters from where we stand.
A fraction of a second before the CLIC and everything is done!
Carola Rackete magically enters in a black-and-white version of Le Radeau de la Méduse (1818-19) by Théodore Géricault – the painting depicting a tragedy at sea which at the time had a great international impact.
Or maybe I just imagined seeing one of Lucas Cranach’s Madonnas…Painting and photography… Past and present.
Looking at the black writing on the side gate of the Théâtre de Ville, which is all wrapped up for restoration, it would seem that the future also looks back to the past: “1871 VIVA THE COMMUNE!”
Perfectly complementary to the “OUR DESIRES PROVIDE DISORDER” graffiti which I had come across a few hours earlier near the Pompidou Center.