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Old 02-27-09, 11:24 PM   #1
martin ewen
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Lurk Arrested in Paris. ‘Avenue du Innocents’

Paris is in France. Which is a country at the northernmost border of Europe where civilization ends. (Near where Britain begins). I had driven up after working in Barcelona and Ibiza, a lovely drive except the one night spent low on gas parked outside a closed gas station in the middle of the Pyrenees (mountains between Spain and France). It was very cold and being the wide-eyed optimist I am I owned nothing but thin shirts to stave off the temperature which to put it mildly, was a tad frosty.

That in itself would have been problem enough but the hitchhiker I had with me was some Latin dude who had the strangest affliction in that as soon as he fell asleep every ounce of viscous fluid in his body immediately made its way to his sinus and the back of his throat such that hideous unearthly mind-bending noises burst from him at volume. I’d wake him up, he’d apologize go back to sleep and, seconds later the imitation of close quarter military jets taking off and landing would resume.

It was a measure of my desperation as I sat there next to the most horrifying snorer in the world while shivering uncontrollably that I tried to knock myself out by bashing my head against the steering column. The first blow was definitely committed and stars swum but sadly I was still among the living so before I could regain what miniscule sense I originally had I mustered my stupidity and had another go…..It was unsuccessful and now I had added a raging headache to the twin discomforts of noise and temperature to create a memorable French trinity of woe.

The rest of the trip was comparatively uneventful. Arrived in Paris, earned the hotel money the evening I got in and resumed my Paris pattern of daytime pitch a block from the Pompidou and night-time pitch in the Latin Quarter.

The daytime pitch was my own; a series of arches with apartments above formed the entrance into a large square. The edge of the square used to be a lane as was still labeled with a street sign. (More about that later) In the middle of the square was a dry fountain where junkies hung out and the arches themselves formed a passage for locals and tourists to pass to and from a nearby subway entrance, various lanes and side roads towards the square and a large underground shopping center beyond. It had a good flow and I would work there a couple of hours a day, the crowds impeded no one and all was well.

I would do my thing, which consisted of outfrenching the French in the distain dept and being for all intents and purposes just a wee bit dour.
They lapped it up and one of my better memories was an old woman on the 3rd floor of the apartments above me opening her window after a show and lowering a 20 franc note that she had stuck on a peg and tied onto the end of a long string.

This was towards the end of the season, round October and what I didn’t know then was that many European countries do immigration sweeps about this time to clear their cultures of summer straggling cling-ons who would otherwise add demands to their sospamspamspamspamspamspamt but finite social welfare systems.

Over the heads of my audience, approaching in the distance I spotted a gaggle of French Guardia, 8 in all with a couple of muzzled dogs and a guy hanging behind wearing a Clouseau overcoat who was obviously the semi-singular half-brain behind the operation.

The Guardia are the utility overalled Dobermans of the French police force who are selected for their single-minded zeal and unquestioning obedience. (Much like low-level gangsters or Orks)
I suspect that at the training academy they hang bright shiny objects at the entrance on recruitment day and select for the Guardia those found transfixed by them who additionally have ‘HATE’ tattooed on their knuckles. ADD and amphetamine addicts are especially prized.

They were darting about snorting and peeing on posts, the junkies scattered, still they caught some, handcuffed them and made them sit on the ground. They were a bit of a distraction actually as my audience kept glancing over at the competitive drama.

From about 100 yards away they turned and looked at me then as one turned to their over coated keeper who nodded.
They rushed towards me, their knuckles bleeding as they dragged at their feet, the audience parted with an indignant distain and they surrounded me barking a threatening gibberish I could only presume was French.

‘Gibber gibber’ they barked…I stared at them…’Gibber gibber gibber growl’ they barked louder, (one of them had dropped to all fours and was licking another’s testicles while whining)

Remember earlier I mentioned that where I was working had been a road and still had the street sign? Well the sign was just feet away so I tottered over to it and smiled and pointed.

‘Avenue du Innocents’

Well I thought it was funny and so did my audience but unfortunately it sent these guys into a furious apoplectic rage.
Howling, they surrounded me and in a stunning piece of improvisation pushed me over.

Two got in front of me and four got behind and the two in the front pushed and the four at the back caught.
(It was like being back at clown school doing a warm fuzzy trust exercise accept it was half a world away from home and being done in public by evil intentioned state Orks)

Mercifully the four at the back actually caught me and lowered me roughly to the ground.

They still had a couple of problems; I was 12 foot long and couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

Inaction to these people is like sunlight to Vampires however so one of the catchers stomped round in front of me and grabbing a stilt, tried to simply yank it off.

I moved about 3 feet. He tried again. I moved another 3 feet. My audience were muttering darkly. I obviously speak no French but remembering how much is shared by common cultures I tried saying ‘Impossible’ with a heavy French accent, ‘Empossaabeelle’ I cried as he pulled at my leg a third time. (With diminishing enthusiasm I had to note.)

The audience had at this point become brave and abusive having had to watch their clown being dragged around the pavement by morons.

The semi-singular half-brain Clouseau-clone now entered the fray in a sort of “try and nip this surrealism in the bud” way and in halting English asked me for my passport.

Now that’s a simple enough request but unfortunately I lead an impossibly complicated life.

I did in fact have my NZ passport on me but I had entered the country with my British passport.
Therefore my NZ passport would have no record of me having ever entered Europe and as such I thought it best to answer, ‘No, It’s at my hotel.’ Which it was.

So I was encouraged constantly and quite vocally to get my legs off.
As I was unwrapping the gaffer/duct tape one of the Guardia pulled out an evil blade and slashed at the top of my stilts helpfully.

Carrying my shoes (no time to put them on apparently) my stilts, my gear and still with my makeup on I was led, surrounded by my honor guard to a grill windowed bus parked round the corner that was now almost full of what looked like Algerian refugees.

We headed off to the main Parisian police station where I was first put into a single cell and searched. They found my NZ passport and told me that if I’d shown that to them they would have left me alone but now as I had already entered the system they were obliged to process me and having got my hotels ph number they would ring them and put me in a holding cell till a copy of my English passport was faxed to them.
(At least I think that’s what they said)

So I was then chucked into a room full of swarthy, Algerian, junkie neer-do-wells still with smeared whiteface and shoeless. A few of them recognized me and tried to chat but sadly we had nothing in common but our criminal records. Still I was unmolested and sat quietly which was probably one of the best things to happen to me all day.

Eventually it was all resolved, the police said that the hotel had stuck up for me sending a copy of my passport and additionally giving me a bit of a character reference. I put my shoes on and left went straight to my night pitch to make up for loss of earnings and the next day I was back at the Avenue du Innocents.
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Old 12-06-09, 06:07 AM   #2
Devinthejuggler
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that was a brilliant story! I havent laughed so hard in a good long time! sorry that it be at your misfortune, but im sure as a performer you are used to that I'm in paris looking around for places to perform, thinking twice now though. are they strict on the whole work permit thing?
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Old 12-06-09, 04:28 PM   #3
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Not that strict, I was unfortunate in that I did not know that in the fall they do sweeps to get rid of illegal immigrants so that their social welfare doesn't have to support them over the winter.
They don't have permits at all as far as I know.
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Old 12-07-09, 02:12 AM   #4
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aah, i see the place where u talking about... they have a really nice pitch here outside the museum. probably saw the best performer iv ever seen yesterday. fillip, damn guy had nothing but a tiny breifcase and tons of charm... i envied his traveling rig...
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Old 10-06-10, 07:00 PM   #5
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Thanks, Evan, it sounds like fun, I'll make sure to take my passport with me when hustling! I am visiting a friend in Paris, will try to work in Monmartre this weekend...Paris looks like an awesome place to work - tonns of tourists and not too many street performers, I checked out different touristy paces - they all are WAY BETTER then overcrowded pitches in US! Just have to figure out what the local rules are - I saw cops giving tickets to Perivian band on the bridge to Eiffel Tour, but then I saw tonns of street musicians in other places...Well, whatever does not kill you makes you stronger...Irina (we met at Festival of Fools)
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