Thursday, 4 June 2009

St Marie showdown

St Marie aux Mines is a small Alsation town, and the fossil and mineral show takes over a large part of it for a week in June. A few central streets are fenced off and tents erected all over the place. A few of the locals get a bit fed up, understandably, but the town does very well from it financially .

At one end of the main road through the show is the 'logistics tent'. This used to just be a handy place to park, then a handy place to store shipping crates, then eventually a handy place for an opportunistic haulage company to fleece everyone for as much as they possibly can. At first it was okay to keep the crates there. Then it was okay as long as you paid them some storage fees, then it was okay as long as you paid storage fees and shipped exclusively with them. Now it's just a case of charging extra for unloading, forklift hire, supervisory costs, paperwork, disposal of paperwork, time, water and air.

Anyway. That's where my crates have been stored during the show for the past few years. It abuts a row of small terraced houses and sits beside a narrow, winding road used as the main vehicular exit from the show. I go to and from my crates a lot, gradually filling them as I buy. I'm often down in the logistics tent shifting stuff around for others, too. So I spend quite a bit of time there.

Last year, my crates were right against the far wall of the tent, next to the outer wall of the houses. I had gone down to repack a crate for a friend as mine were finished and sealed. There was a bit of a crowd gathereing in the road on the other side of the mesh fence. They were looking at the upper floor of the house next to my crates. I moved to the fence and looked. A man was leaning from the window shouting and waving his arms around. My French isn't brilliant, but I asked the shipping company rep what was going on.

Turned out the guy had locked himself in his house, turned on the gas and was going to blow himself up. By this time, the police had arrived, and were milling around with the crowd. Then a couple of fire engines, an ambulance, then a van full or armed cops. There were plenty of rumours going around by now. There was a baby in the house. He had split up with his girlfriend. He had a gun. His girlfriend had the baby. The baby had a gun.

Meanwhile, all traffic from the show was halted. The road was closed and many members of the French emergency services stood around smoking.

After an hour or so, things had settled down a little and we knew a little more. He DID have a gun, and waved it around a little. There was no baby. He WAS threatening to blow the house up. He had split up with his girlfriend, and she had been seeing his best friend. The man was angered by this.

A neighbour from across the street berated the gun-waver from her first floor window. At length. She spoke very quickly and I didn't really get much of it. She disapproved of his actions, though. I got that.

The police didn't seem to be overly worried, and everyone was allowed to hang around, as long as they didn't get too close to the windows. The van had pulled up in front of the house and a handful of police with guns and smoke grenades crouched behind. Others, with rifles, went to the other side of the stream behind the house. The much-discussed girlfriend was brought down and stood, with a cop, outside the house talking with her disgruntled ex. Then she went away.

I was a bit worried about what would happen to my crates if the house did blow up.

Somebody came out from a car to talk to Mr Angry. This went on for a while. Then there was a lot of hanging around. At some point, some of the police went in, and the guy was walked from the house into an ambulance and taken away. Then the traffic was allowed to move on again. Bit of an anti-climax, maybe, but no blood was lost. The shipping company didn't even charge us for watching it.

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