The first two days of this week saw Nice transformed into a diplomatic capital of major significance … ish. Anyway, the city was host to the France-Afrique summit – a high-level event with President Sarkozy presiding over meetings with the leaders of 38 African states.
Rather than transform us into a ville en fête (our natural inclination), le sommet gave us a glimpse of what it might be like to awake in the aftermath of a bloodless coup d’état. Suddenly the whole place was taken over by the forces of order, swarming everywhere as a curious quiet descended interrupted only by the hum of the high-powered and highly-expensive motors of the the big, high mucky-mucks as they swept past us pedestrian plebs. The police were clearly there to protect them from us. Our local police presence was augmented by four thousand more, mostly drawn from the ranks of the Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité. The CRS, famous – or infamous, depending on your stance – gendarmerie equivalent of special forces, the gendarmerie being a military organisation. Lazy journos normally refer to the CRS as ‘riot police’; but they are more than that – e.g. they’re life guards, and provide an indispensable service here in the summer.
Most of the inhabitants sulked under the twin strain of suspicion and security, bearing with increasing ill-will the constraints on free-flowing traffic (already problematic even without Big Cheeses descending upon us in their fleets of limos complete with out-riders). And I don’t blame them one bit on the latter score, having plenty of unpleasant memories of car-bound commuting. But for the moment I was free to stroll around gawping to my heart’s content.
So I goggled at the be-suited men and their brightly-dressed wives, their extensive entourages, their cheerfulness, their extraordinary plumpness aglow with healthily replete confidence. I wondered how much of benefit might arise from all these talks and meetings and discussions and, presumably, agreements for all those Africans who are at best struggling, at worst in unspeakable conditions. And I wished I knew. Or perhaps I’d rather not.
And all around us, CRS. On motocycles, on foot, and waiting in groups of half a dozen in vans, parked in open spaces and in side-streets all around the centre of town. Our own police, national and local, were mostly on the beat – the luckiest ones being those assigned to Vieux-Nice, where they stomped around singly in their bovver boots beaming happily courtesy of rapturous greetings from the commerçants who suffer so much from petty crime.
I enjoyed the freedom of mostly traffic-free roads and stepped rapidly past groups of uniformed men, their hard eyes darting everywhere, scouting around them. Isn’t it extraordinary how us perfectly innocent types immediately feel an icy finger of guilt run down our spines whenever we encounter these characters? So you won’t be a bit surprised to hear my entire spinal column felt positively deep-frozen when I was flagged down by a vanful of CRS while returning from the Cours, a bunch of flowers for Madame Dalpozzo held like a rifle over my shoulder.
One of them beckoned, indicating the flowers.
“For us?” a rhetorical question apparently. “About time, I must say!”
It was the little one, young and crisply handsome, sitting in the middle of the front seat.
“For you? But no!” I responded stoutly. “They are for a friend. Sorry!”
Two of the officers folded their arms. “Well, Madame,” sighed the little one. “We are disappointed.” He looked to the others for confirmation and received nods and murmurs of assent.
“Y’see we noticed you walking down the street [hard not to, the street being deserted]. We saw the flowers, and thought it must at last – at long last (he heaved another heavy sigh) – be our turn.”
Golly, eh? Nice try!
I shook my head, looking appropriately regretful – or so I hoped, but I fear I failed miserably as I was trying hard not to giggle. Then I had an idea: “and if you were to return for Carnaval, there is the bataille de fleurs …?”
“Battles is it, Madame?” asks yer man the super-fuzz.
I laughed; the rest of them joined in.
I made to move away and they wished me a good day. Then, thinking of something I’d read on an excellent blog written by a copper (since shamefully outed by the MSM), I turned back: “Thank you,” I said, “thank you for all you do for us. It is appreciated.”
Then their smiles became genuine: real warmth, rather than guarded informality.
Not only the Grosses Légumes were being protected during those two days: we were safe, the rest of us. As far as that is possible (not very, as we know). All the same most of us in the West walk around in relative security, which is a great luxury. As for the police, they often risk their lives. For us. As well as for all those Big Cheeses or Fat Cats who, true to form, certainly weren’t taking any chances with their own. Even if back home so many of their people were doing just that – and on so many fronts.
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