The ancient Gauls thought that Bourges was the centre of the world. Tomorrow (Saturday 12 January) it will at least be the centre of France. In the following post, big fears in a small own.
Business as Usual
Mid-morning downtown. The good folks of the world are going about their daily doings, all bundled up to the eyeballs in thick winter coats,and topped off with hats and bonnets. It’s freezing out here, temperatures well below zero, but we bumble around as bet we can on the icy, cobble stone pavements and everything is business as usual, although this morning there is some unusual business.
Shopkeepers removing items from their window displays – whilst others are boarding up. Every few metres, carpenters are out, measuring up doorways, cutting up planks of wood and boarding shop fronts, like we’re getting ready for a war. Most banks in the main street are already «war ready» and some have even gone as far as to empty and turn off their outside cash machines.
Further up the street, local council workers are removing parking metres, covering up the glass on bus shelters, taking the light bulbs bulbs from street lamps, and removing anything in the street that might be used to build a barricade or used as a weapon. Public benches, flower pots and hanging baskets, bins, bollards, they’ve all disappeared. Builders are taking down scaffolding, and packing away bricks and slates – wise move. Winter is here and war is coming to my small town.
The call went out on social media at the start of the week – for their up and coming ninth weekend of protest, the leaders of the Yellow Vest movement decreed that their next big, national signature demonstration would not be in Paris, but in Bourges. a town of 60,000 souls right n the centre of France. It was symbolic, why let the nation’s capital get al the glory? It was time to take the protest right to the heart of France, to one of those small towns in that forsaken wilderness that the chattering classes call «peripheral France» – far from the nation’s big cities, far from civilisation, far from the hearts and minds of politicians, forgotten France.
We thought it was a joke, a diversion, a stunt, and then within a e hours, 2000 people had signed up on social media, with another 10,000 expressing saying they might turn up for the revolution.
It was no joke – 12000 malcontens in yellow high viz vests all planning to head for Bourges. The Yellow Vest leaders thundered the symbolism of the location on the airwaves. In former times, Bourges was the symbol of Gaulish resistance, defying all Julius Caesar’s attemps at conquest, and now, over nearly two thousand year later, the town would stand again in defiance to «Emperor» Macron.
Ice Cream on the Moon
As the locals prepared for a weekend of unrest, journalists from the national media, googled Bourges, or opened their mapping apps, to find just exactly where we were down the yellow brick road. And as the pundits and protesters, all started to look for a bed for the night, accommodation was soon in short supply, and a hotel room in Bourges became rarer than ice cream on the Moon.
Are There Shops in Bourges?
Contrary to the message of protesters and the town’s portrayal in national media, Bourges is not a dated and desolate, poverty stricken backwater on the edge of nowhere – Bourges is one of these «big» small provincial towns where life trundles along the same way, everyday, pretty much the same it has always done forever. A «big» small town, still relatively immune from the stresses and strains and dangers of 21st century living. the crime rate is low, the streets are safe to walk at night, it’s a good place to bring up a family, it’s a good place to run to when big city life has just gotten too big.
We are not quite that traditionial, real French rural idyll that many ex-pats seem to seek.
«Are there buses in Bourges?» a London based would-be expat onec asked me?
Are there shops in Bourges» a colleague newly arived from Paris asked my wife
Yes, there are shops and buses and good Internet and all the necessary comforts of 21st century living, but the town is also oozing with historic authenticity with its half timbered down town and its medieval cathedral and its rennaissace palaces. We are firmly on the tourist track but just enough of the beaten track to be a backwater – and this is the way we like it.
Of course were are use to invasions, every year, Bourges plays host a a huge 5 day rock festival and over 50,000 people roll into town, and it all passes off without a hitch.
Bourges will always welcome the world with open arms. This weekend’s invasion though is more unwelcome. 12000 Yellow vests – of course there will be decent demonstrators, peaceful protesters – reasonable people, but what we fear is the hundreds of «hangers-on» who have come for a fight – beat up a few policemen, burn some cars, trash local shops – use our town as a playground cum battleground. And when the fires are out, the teargas has cleared, and the malcontents head home, the good folks of Bourges will be left to lick their wounds and clear up, asking themselves who will pay for it all? – the smashed up bus shelter, the broken traffic lights, the graffitied historic monuments, our town didn’t deserve this. Why us? We all saw what happened to the Arc de Triomphe, we all saw what happened on the Champs Elysées. We’ve all seen the senseless violence, the urban warfare, the trail of damage in cities all across France; Bordeaux, St Etienne, Toulouse, Marseilles – we don’t need that
At lunchtime today, the local authorities officially banned all demonstrations in downtown Bourges, adding that they still had received no formal request from any organisation to stage a demonstration over the weekend, therefore as things stand, and protest march, however peaceful, is illegal for the moment.
Local authorities also took the decision for a «shutdown». On the big day (12/01/) all local amenities will be closed, this includes the town’s museums and art galleries, public parks and gardens, sporting facilities and even the town’s car parks. Rumour has the Saturday market will also be cancelled, along with any local sporting events. Advice is for shop owners to use their better judgement.
We also have to consider, the policing of this. On a local level, we don’t have the security werewithal to deal with 12000 protesters – there are demonstrations in Bourges, but never more than a couple of hundred people out pleading their cause or voicing their discontent, they are all peaceful affairs, made up of locals. This weekend is different, all France has invited itself to Bourges, like unwanted callers trampling through our house.
Just how much violence will their be, and how far will local shopkeepers or tradespeople take matters into their own hands? Who has a baseball bat to hand? Who has a tazer gun under the counter? Who has a CS or pepper spray at the ready, and just how far will desperate individual actions go to antagonize the hooligans?
Anytime would be a bad time for such a protest, but, this is also the first weekend of the January sales – one of the most important shopping weekends of the year, big business for local shops, especially after the disastrous un up to Christmas. It can’t all be blamed on Internet shopping, there were thousands of shoppers all over France who stayed home on Christmas shopping weekends, preferring to buy with one click, than, run the gauntlet of Yellow Vest protesters, camped on road junctions, blockading supermarkets,or protesting in town centres.
We’re all Poor Buggers
Tomorrow, the revolution comes to town. I understand the discontent, the anger, the helplessness of many people. I’m not living on the street, but I’m like a lot of other poor buggers, trundling along the bottom, trying to get from one payday to the next without spending my next pay before it comes. My aspirational dream at the moment is not a dream holiday or a new car, but perhaps a reasonably-priced, new TV in the sales to replace the current model I’ve had for 20 years, or shall I keep the money for a rainy day?there’s a window needs replacing in the bedroom, my computer is on its last legs, and … yeah, scraping along the bottom.
Yeah, I understand the Yellow vests, who want to live better, or simply to cease existing and begin living. We are all Yellow Vests, but that doesn’t’ mean you have to come down and smash up my town.