This morning about 7:30 there was a drama on Rue Victor Masse in Paris -- just below our living room window. We saw most of it.
A man thumped a window of a car and tried to open the door, but it was locked. He went and sat on the curb across the street. Soon his wife/girl friend arrived.
We heard yelling and watched as they argued and then fought. She was barefoot. He punched her in the face. She grabbed his arms to stop him. She did not run away. They continued to yell. Bystanders watched from a distance. They grappled and fought some more, he punched at her some more. She hit him on his bald head with her high-heeled shoe, and drew blood. They continued to fight and yell. She did not run away, but got behind a rubbish bin and pushed it at him. We decided she had the car keys and would not let him drive.
After perhaps five minutes of fighting, a large man walked patiently down the street from the direction of the 24-hour beer bar on the corner. He Cops and firemen cooperate approached the couple with his hands open and up and in front of him, but touched neither; he tried to separate them, but did not offer contact to either. He seemed to know what he was doing. As they noticed him the fighting diminished.
Then a plain white car came down the street, with a single flashing blue light set on the roof. Two officers got out and quickly stopped the fight, quite gently. The most force they used was to restrain the couple from approaching one another.
One got on the radio and then talked to the man who had separated the couple. His partner frisked the belligerent man. They kept the couple separated, asked questions, let time pass.
After another five minutes a fire department van showed up. First there was a little ritual in which cop A shook hands with paramedic A while cop B shook hands with paramedic B, then they reversed and the A's shook the hands of the B's. Then the paramedics got down to business. One put the woman in the back of their truck, out of sight, while the other swabbed and dressed the man's head wound. Soon a marked police car came up the street, lights flashing, and four more officers got out, including one woman, who immediately went to the fighting woman. By this time the fighting man was much more docile. He sat in the back of the police car and showed things from his wallet to the cops. It seemed to us that he was showing photos of his wife and family. The cops made only a few notes, but a number of radio calls, which were presumably transcribed. The cops wore black leather gloves, the paramedics white latex.
The cop car drove away with the man. The woman got out of the back of the van, and handed keys to a cop, who quickly unlocked the parked car, and backed it up to a livraison (deliveries) parking place across the street and locked it up again and gave the keys back to the woman. The unmarked car drove away, leaving one cop and the woman. Then the unmarked car returned, the woman got in back (a policewoman next to her) and so did the last cop and they all drove away.
It all lasted about half an hour. The cops wear badges reading Police National, so evidently there is a central administration, but we imagine those assigned to Paris are exceptionally well trained. Aside from the courtesies exchanged with the paramedics, the cops were all business; so unlike the smiling English constables, but giving an impression of complete professional control of the situation. The entire demonstration gave one the feeling that one could rely on these police for one's safety, and that one would be well advised to obey the laws of France scrupulously.
After the morning's excitement, our morning calmed down. We opted for an open-air, country kind of day.
The Bois de Vincennes, the largest park in metropolitan Paris, lies across the outer loop highway, the Peripherique, beyond the southeast corner of the city. Arriving at the last stop on the Metro, we walked through the grounds of the Chateau de Vincennes. It is mostly devoted to historical museums of the major military services, but there is also a church and a chateau. The buildings had been damaged during the famous storm of 1999, where winds blew at 165 - 170 km/hour, toppling a couple of towers and breaking trees. So the church is closed for repairs and the chateau doesn't look welcoming. The dry and scraggly lawns had signs posted: Pelouse Interdit (Keep Off the Grass) ; we wondered why anybody would want to walk on it anyway. It was of interest, because elsewhere Parisians freely walked on the grass of their parks. This restriction extended just to the grounds of the Chateau, not to the rest of the Bois de Vincennes. Restoring the chateau
The entry to the park had the same neglected appearance. The road had been blocked against traffic, and was becoming slowly overgrown. The paths on the roadside were of varying condition -- we shared the space with many joggers and some bicyclists and could tell that there were numerous bridle paths.
As we got further into the park we began to enjoy the atmosphere of an area benignly neglected by the government. Wildflowers and vines and berry bushes crowded for space, along with groves of trees. The air was warm but not stifling, though we were sweating after several miles of walking. Several areas have been re-planted to restore the damage from the 1999 storm. There are two major lakes, with rowboats and ducks and little children and dogs. At one point dozens of bicyclists sped almost noiselessly across our path -- at first we thought it was a warm-up for the Tour de France which starts tomorrow, but it was just a lot of Parisians, almost all men, of all ages, grimly riding lap after lap on the triangular course which we found by inspecting our map. It might have been a race, but we didn't think so. We were impressed that these cyclists were using their Saturday to Stay in Shape, although we felt more affinity with the slower cyclists circumnavigating the Route Touristique, who had time to enjoy the flowers as they rode along.
One could spend days and not visit all the facilities in the Bois de Vincennes. There is another zoo, a demonstration farm, the headquarters of the National Institute of Sport, a large stable with training facilities for jumping, miles of bridle paths, a Zen Buddhist temple, and a guide dog training facility. These seemed to be semi-private spreads located in this public nature park. It's probably a historical accident that it developed that way, rather than any coordinated plan for the use of recreational space.
In contrast to the more formal gardens and public spaces within the city, this park was delightfully laid-back and pleasant, well-used by families and a secret treat for tourists wanting a contrast to the rest of Paris.
We concluded our excursion with lunch at an outdoor table of a restaurant just at the edge of the park. Sheltered by high box hedges, we could catch glimpses of families walking into the park, and appreciated the technique of a fellow diner, a stately middle-aged woman, who had ordered Fruits de mer, and was happily drinking the oyster liquid from each shell. The oysters were indeed delicious, as was the carpaccio of beef (a neighborhood specialty, judging by the menus we scanned on our way back to the Metro).