Offbeat Antibes – #6 Je Suis Charlie

On the surface, not much appears to have changed in Antibes in the last 24 hours or so. The sun is shining. The Marché Provencal was on. The bells chimed at mid-day, but the bells chime at mid-day every day and on the hour, every hour. The bars and the cafés, especially those in proximity to the market were busy. There was an abundance of fruit and vegetables. There was a stall for fish, for soap and honey, for olives – one for meat and another for crepes. There were a couple of stalls selling flowers. The over-riding smell was lavender; as it always seems to be. There were dogs and pigeons mooching about.

At midday, I was near the Picasso Museum. I had gone to look a the sea to keep the minute of silence and thought it would be quiet there. Fat chance. The cars kept coming past. The cyclists, riding two abreast, were chatting. People called out to each other across the terrace of a restaurant. There were motorbikes and the riders did, as they always seem to, and gave an extra rev, pumping up the noise as they went past. There were planes overhead. The sky was blue and the sun shining. An older woman and her daughter stopped beside me for a while, but the older woman lost concentration after a while and became restless to move on, grumbling about the pointlessness of standing there.  ‘I have seen it,’ she said, ‘let’s go.’

Apart from that, nothing was happening and it looked to all intents and purposes as if nothing would continue to happen. Flags were at half-mast. That much was obviously different.

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I have had that strange metallic taste I get in my mouth when I am afraid. It is there when I sense that everything is not as it should be. It comes when I am anticipating trouble  and when  I sense something is deeply wrong, but what it is, is not explicit; when there is incongruence between what is expressed and when I sense something is being held back – a deeper, more present and immediate issue. It’s a shit-detector. That’s all. I was surprised at how the cadence of everyday life here seemed uninterrupted.  It was business as usual.

I sat outside a café at lunch time. I was writing letters to people – finishing one that I had begun yesterday.  Suddenly, at the shop next door, the owner (white) was a protagonist in a scuffle with another man. I don’t have enough of the language to know exactly what was said but I know enough to recognise the words ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’. It’s not a big stretch.  The shop-owner was having a go at a younger man – a Muslim man. They were squaring up to each other, eye to eye. Each looked as though he was struggling to restrain from spitting in the face of the other. The Muslim guy backed off. It was he who called the other, fascist and racist. One assumes it relates to the place France finds itself in today – a place that is different than the same time yesterday – there was nothing about it which indicated that it was otherwise. People stepped in to intervene and to calm things. I don’t think it calmed, nor do I think it has disappeared. It hasn’t. Like the men – it has just stepped back. It doesn’t feel finished. It made sense that my shit-detector was pinging.

It was small as altercations go. I personally have seen worse at home. There have been times when things escalate in a heartbeat, perhaps ‘in drink’ and for apparently less provocation.

There is a  new rawness here; a prickly under-belly to the gentile overlay, and there are men, quick to square up, quick to transmute pain to rage, quick to the fight, quick with their anger – defensive. It is hard to describe how big that change feels. Yesterday morning, it was inconceivable to me, that such a thing might happen here.

At home, we are still largely inured to the overlay of tension. It is so quotidian, we are in it and we don’t notice – it is just the way it is.  Having been here since October, I had revelled in it being a place without fear and tension. What a difference the day has made.

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