Sometimes You Just Gotta Riot
September 19, 2009

yo ice cream, i’m really happy for you, and imma let you finish, but NUTELLA CREPES ARE…

There was something I wanted to do before leaving Nice. This was a mandatory item on the itinerary. Before I left France I wanted to have the delicious springtime treat that is nutella crepes.
There’s a dessert cafe in the middle of Nice that’s in the same square as the best restaurant and best ice cream shop. The last side of the square holds the Palais de Justice courthouse. I’m about to overpay for a simple crepe but at this point I’m locked on like zombies to brain. Sugary chocolatty Nutella goodness brain. So I’m feasting on these jesus crepes when I look up across the square to the huge courthouse. Charlye from the first night in Nice was getting his directing on with his crew. The protest he was mentioned a couple nights ago was gonna happen there soon!
An issue that’s under debate recently is the cleaning up of street performers and street art. They don’t want people peddling and harassing unsuspecting tourists. So they passed a law that enacted a permit system. Whereby, people would state their trade and be allowed or denied practice. Essentially the freedom of expression is under government regulation and so Charlye won’t have any of it. And I won’t either!
So my with my newfound cause and courage, I finished my crack crepe and walk across the square to the courthouse. The path through the square was through a row of restaurant tables, a breakdancer, two different style painters, and a row of riot policemen watching the protest being set up.
“Charlye, it’s Nhan what’s going on here?”
Charlye was out commanding his production crew like a general. That would make his first lieutenant a 25 year old cute french tomboy cameragirl. She was trailing him documenting every move. Her camera panned my direction as I yelled to Charlye.
I asked if there was anything I can do to help the cause.
“Sure, go help roll out the huge canvas for the live painting.” he said in a French accent.
So in the next hour I start doing odd jobs to get the protest in front of the courthouse in full gear. I roll out big banners, put a few brushstrokes on a live painting, set up a drum set for the after-protest performance. All while the police try to intimidate us by forming a chain around our event. A bunch of protesters are coming up to me and when they find out I’m American and a bunch more come over and wanna find out what I’m all about. Charlye comes over and tells them something in French and they disperse.
As the event takes hold, the mayor arrives along with his personal slave. His servant carries the megaphone and that’s his sole job. They both stand in front of me and ready to make his address. I’m right behind them looking out at the massive crowd. He tells the crowd he is in favor of fighting the permit system and speaks for another 20 minutes in French. It’s like the scene from Braveheart and I’m standing right next to Mel Gibson as he rallies the masses (the mayor actually looked a lot like Mel but is dressed in a suit). The whole time I feel sorry for the megaphone holder. The crowd cheers hysterically and after the mayor finishes anyone who wishes to speak their mind starts to do so using the megaphone.
It was pretty great to see people engaged in political debate in the middle of the day. Men, women, children all could speak if they wanted. It was like a democracy freestyle. Impromptu expression doesn’t happen often if ever in America.
Anyway, Charlye pulled me aside and wanted to get me on camera talking about my thoughts about the whole deal and how art is more free in america. But we had to do multiple takes because I keep looking into the camera when I talk when I’m supposed to be looking at Charlye. Sorry Charlye, my message was so huge I wanted to tell it to the world directly. So somewhere out there I’m apart of a compilation of people talking about freedom of expression and art. He said he was gonna show it to government officials.
It was awesome how I was just having a delicious crepe one minute and the next I was saving street art and being a part of a large anti-government protest.