When I lived in the 18th (Rue Camille Tahan, near Place de Clichy), there was a vacant lot on Avenue de Clichy (on the right side facing north, which is important because the left side of Avenue de Clichy is in the 17th and the right side is in the 18th, two arrondissements that are totally different, one populaire, the other not) that one day spawned a circus. It was winter; it was a cirque d'hiver. Just a small affair -- a tent, a caravan and a bunch of tziganes (gypsies). When I was a kid, I wanted to run away and join a circus. Maybe most kids entertain this fantasy; I'm not sure many almost do it, as I did. I made a plan with my friend from across the street, which included throwing a pebble against her window in the middle of the night. I got as far as the front door of my house before I really saw clearly that this plan of ours would end badly. I touched the door knob but couldn't turn it; I went back to bed and gave up my circus fantasy.
I used to walk by the little circus on Avenue de Clichy every day. Sometimes I would see the tziganes sitting around and smoking or practicing their routines. I wanted to join them; I wanted to run away and join the circus.
The French government has recently decided to get tough on its tzigane population. The pretext is that with Roumania and other Eastern European countries joining the European Union, France is being overrun by these "gens du voyage". A little legislative history is in order: until 2000, the Loi Besson dated May 31, 1990 required cities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to set aside a patch of land for nomads. In 2000, another law was passed (Loi n°2000-614 du 5 juillet 2000) to deal with complex cases (cities with just under 5,000 inhabitants, for example). In 2003, another law (la loi sur la sécurité intérieure) placed further restrictions on the rights of these gens du voyage to occupy these encampments. In 2005, France's legislators decided to make them pay residency taxes (property taxes).
So what's happening now and getting everybody up in arms is really just part of a process that was set in motion years ago. The problematizing of itinerant people did not begin yesterday; in fact, it goes back way further than the law passed in 1991.
Back to the Cirque parisien Romanès: it winters in Paris and performs across Europe the rest of the year. It even represented France at the Shanghai World's Fair. Now Eric Besson, France's Ministre du Travail, has caused a stir for revoking the work permits of a couple of its musicians. Alexandre Romanès, the colorful and eloquent head of the Cirque, claims there is a link between the way his musicians are being treated and the government's larger crusade against gypsies and their encampments. The current winter home of the Cirque Romanès is on another street I used to live on, Rue de Courcelles (actually, the address is 42-44 Boulevard de Reims in the 17th; I was further down on Rue de Courcelles and my apartment was in the 8th arrondissement). I was listening to one of my daily podcasts (Pascale Clark's Comme on nous parle) when suddenly I heard the familiar voice of Alexandre Romanès. The France Inter program was initially aired on September 27. Romanès announced that a soirée de soutien au cirque would be held on October 4 and that he hoped his troupe would be able to perform as planned starting on November 6. Vive le cirque! Vive le Cirque Romanès! If you live in Paris, please go and see these talented people perform. Think of it as a nice way to flip the bird at Nico and all the pretty people who apparently want to rid the landscape of gypsies. Where is first lady Carla Bruni, l'artiste, when we most need her to go to bat for her fellow artistes?