One Day (Oh what a day) in Paris, Nov. 18, 2009.
(Algérie 1 – Egypte 0)
photos Pete Grafton
I had three cameras with me. A pre-1939 camera for black and white, and two for colour, one of which could be slipped discretely into, and out of, a jacket pocket.
The morning started with the sun peeking through the grey clouds, but then settled down to being overcast, before perking up again in the late afternoon.
As I took this photo I did not notice the gentleman, off camera, to my right. In his sixties. He smiled as he glanced and then took a closer, admiring look at the camera. It was a bashed early 1930s Rolleicord I was holding.
“A good camera”, he said, with almost a loving smile, before he continued to guide the tourist group around the sights/sites of Montmartre. Soon the camera was also to be admired in the Place de Torcy fish market.
As you walk east along Rue Doudeauville toward the junction with Rue Marx Dormoy there is a greater presence of Africans and Arab North Africans, mostly from the former French colonies, such as Algeria (Algérie)
A group of young gypsy women with long brightly patterned cotton skirts were approaching me as I walked along the left-hand side of the bridge towards the junction with Rue Marx Dormoy. They were relaxed, perhaps moving from one touting/scam spot to another. I have good street radar and I knew instantly something was going to happen. In a blink of an eye I took in that they had no back up, and there was no-one behind me. And then it happened. They were all attractive and almost with a kind of contempt the one in the middle took a look at me and flicked her skirt up. Revealed at the top of her perfect legs was a magnificent triangle of black pubic hair. I instantly responded with a smile and “C’est tres jolie, madame”. There was a snooty flick of her head and they continued walking. No hassle.
I was making my way north east to Place Herbert, where in 1957 the photographer Robert Doiseneau had taken his well known photograph Les Enfants de la Place Hebert.
On my way I came across an open air market in Place de Tourcy with a lot of fresh fish. Those in the market were predominantly Arab and African, buying and selling. From my past Parisian experience this crowded environment was not good for “candid” photos. My experience was that these groups were usually wary or hostile to photos being taken in their vicinity. However,in the happy celebration that was to erupt later that afternoon, wariness went out the window.
Whilst I was mulling over the pros and cons of of taking a photo, unseen to me a man, a white man, in his 80s had come up to me. Like the guide near Sacre Coure he had spotted the Rolleicord hanging around my neck. He was erect and his clothes were pressed. He had a quiet presence. “C’est tres bon”, and realising French wasn’t my native tounge asked me where I came from. “Ah, Scotland. I know Scotland I was there in 1945. I was in Perth. I had been asked to give talks to your Commandos by Tom Johnstone. I was in the French Resistance, you understand. I liked Scotland. Do you know Tom Johnstone?” Tom Johnstone had retired – two months before I was born in July 1945 – from being Secretary of State for Scotland in the wartime British Coalition Government led by Churchill. I said I knew of Tom Johnston. (1). He smiled and nodded, and after a parting fond look at the Rolleicord, we shook hands and went our separate ways.
I decided not to take a photograph in the Place de Tourcy market, but later wished I had taken a photo of the gentleman who had been in the Resistance..
It was a short walk from there, along Rue de l’Evangile, to Place Hebert and Cafe La Piscine. I’d been there two years before, give or take a month…
I’d had the Plat du Jour when I was there in 2008, and knew the Cafe had a lively and friendly atmosphere. So sitting inside on the Rue de L’Evangile side of the Cafe I enjoyed the craic, surrounded by locals having their mid-day meal, joshing with each other and the cafe staff. Eating my Crème Caramel I heard a quick blast on a trumpet outside, a happy blast. The meal finished, the pichet drunk, I sat outisde under the canopy with a fresh glass. Again there was a burst on a trumpet and a car went past with the player leaning out the window, and the driving grinning, and then beeping his horn. A wedding celebration?
A woman sat down at the table to my left. I noticed there was a head of a little dog peeking out of the top of her shopping bag, as she put it on the floor. She was joined by a male friend. I was checking my cameras, seeing how much film was left in each, and looking at the notes I had made of what I wanted to photograph near Rue de L’Evangile. At some point I looked up and the man gave a jerk of his head with a smiling hint of a frown as if to say “What are you doing?” I explained I was following in the footsteps of where Robert Doisneau, and others, took photos in the area. He kindly corrected my pronunciation of Doisneau – I didn’t realise the “s” wasn’t pronounced. I showed them the photocopies I had of Les Enfants de la Place Herbert, and Rene Jaques’ La Calvare with the gasometers in the background at the eastern end of Rue de l’Evangile. They told me the gasometers were gone. They told me that above the bar inside was a reproduction of Doisneau’s Les Enfants de Place Hebert. I had never noticed. Like nearly all Parisians of their age they knew their Doisneau’s, their Cartier Bresson’s, their Izis and their Willy Ronis’s. Parisians, old and young, queue patiently to see a major exhibition by any of these Masters.
I asked if I could take their photo. “Bien sur”. The little camera in my pocket had a fast film loaded for poor light.
I said I would send her the photos if she gave me an address, once they were developed. She gave me the address of the Cafe Piscine. (I sent the photos. Note: photografton no longer exists. See instead petegraftonphotos.com)
Time to move on, but I needed the toilet. Inside I looked up at the photo of Les Enfants de Place Hebert above the bar. La Patron followed my gaze. “Vous etes Le Patron?” – “Oui”. We shook hands and I went down to the squatter toilet in the basement.
Looking at my street map and the time I decided to skip going down to the very end of Rue de l’Evangile and started heading south making my way to Rue Marx Dormoy. As I almost got there, there was excitement down a one-way side street – flares were going off. Flags were being waved. Algerian flags. This was no wedding, it was a party, a celebration.
Algeria and Egypt were fierce football rivals. This was a make or break game played in the Sudan to decide which team would go forward to play in the World Cup.
Walking along Boulevard de la Chapelle towards the Barbes Rochechouart Metro area the light was fading and the crowds and the cars were increasing. Up a quiet dark side street on my right I noticed riot police, “at ease, by the side of parked police vehicles, ready, if necessary. (2)
As I walked West towards the predominantly white French area around Place des Abbesses the predominantly Algerian crowds thinned. What a day.
A year later…..
A year later, November 25, 2010, an Algerian flag is still on the steelwork of the Barbes Rochochouart Metro.
- Tom Johnson (1881 – 1965) was a Labour MP, and was liked by most MPs, irrespective of their Party loyalties, during his time in the wartime Coalition Government. His invitation to the French Resistance gentleman to talk to Commandos in Scotland (or possibly SOE – Special Operations Executive – staff, rather than Commandoes), may have been stimulated by his concern for the possibility of an active Nazi resistance in the immediate post-war period in Germany. He expressed his concern to Robert Bruce Lockhart, a fellow Scot, and Director-General of the Political Warfare Executive, in a private conversation in the North British Hotel, Edinburgh in April, 1945. see The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, Volume Two, 1939 – 1965.
- As far as I know there were no crowd “disturbances” or riot police used during the evening of November 18, 2009, although there were rumours, unconfirmed rumours.