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On May 1st this year, Paris was in a state of confusion. Four days before the second round of the Presidential Election, everybody from the far right to the far left was in the streets. All of them wanted to save the country. They only disagreed on the meaning of that word. This is the story of three people in Paris on May 1st, 2002. They were the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

I first saw the Ugly.

The Ugly

It was high noon, and Jean-Marie Le Pen was haranguing the crowd in front of the Opera House, as he does every year on May 1st. The 73-year-old nationalist leader, who had obtained 17% of the votes 10 days before, was in great condition. Ten or twenty thousand people were waving blue-white-red flags. Never in his life had so many people come to applaud him. During 90 minutes, without a break, he vociferated against the politicians, the journalists and the immigrants.

He said what the crowd wanted to hear, and he said it extremely well. What a voice! What an eloquence! "Crime... Immigration... They call Le Pen the incendiary. No, no! He is not the incendiary! He is the fireman!", he yelled. When reading "Heart of Darkness", think about Kurtz and try to imagine the power of his voice. Le Pen had that power. You don't speak to a voice like that. You only listen.

The Good

Three hours later, it was an incredible mess around Place de la République. Teachers, students, French families, African workers, Chinese husbands and wives, old ladies, engineers, communists, trade unionists, gay and lesbian militants were pulling up their banderoles and chanting their slogans. They were enthusiastic because they were so many there, all united against a common enemy: Le Pen. It was a gigantic outdoor party.

That was the real Paris, the one I recognize in the subway every time I come back from another country. Few cities in the world, maybe London, maybe New York, display the same diversity in the way the people look, in the way they behave, in the way they think. In that crowd you could remain unnoticed. In the nationalist pro-Le Pen crowd you didn't feel so easy: you had the impression that they were watching you. And yet you belonged to the right ethnic group.

Later, I was typing on my computer at home. I was about to complete a detailed comparison between Le Pen's and Mussolini's political ideas. Was Le Pen really a fascist, as so many people said? What did these people know about fascism and about Le Pen? So, several days before I had decided to read Le Pen and to read Mussolini. And now, after hours and hours of hard work, I was ready to write my conclusion.

It was frightening. Mussolini's political program in 1921, before Italy abandoned itself in his arms, was not very different from Le Pen's program today. Fortunately, the French were not going to accept Le Pen. We would not give our country to that man.

I published the study on my Web site and advertised it in a couple of newsgroups. Dozens of people came to see it immediately. Some of them thanked me for doing such an excellent work; it was so useful to think calmly in these days of madness.

It was 11 pm, I was tired and rather proud. I had done my duty. I was the Good.

The Bad

I deserved a good dinner, didn't I ? The Hippopotamus restaurant, near the Porte Saint-Martin, was probably still open. Good meat, standard French cooking, precisely what I was hungry for. And they had pretty waitresses too, or so I had read in a newspaper.

My wallet was empty, so I stopped at a cash dispenser on Boulevard Saint-Denis. Inserted the card in the machine. Typed the secret code. Asked for eighty euros. Waited.

Suddenly a man rushed on me. He yelled: "Keep away! You'll have your card back!", and he waited for the money to come out of the machine.

He was an Arab. "Asshole! What are you doing? We were half a million in the streets this afternoon to defend you. And now you are attacking me? Salaud ! Tu peux faire le malin, mais de nous deux c'est moi qui ai la meilleure vie. J'ai un bon boulot, cet été j'irai en vacances dans un hôtel confortable. Va te faire foutre ! Today you are the Bad, I am the Good, and you will not make me vote for the Ugly!"

Of course I didn't say that. I didn't even think it. I mumbled something. I should have defended myself. We were not in America, the man had no gun. And no knife either, or he would have exhibited it from the beginning. He was just another junkie in desperate need of a fix.

I was enraged. Enraged against me, against fate. The world was too complicated. There were too many rules, and they were too difficult. One of these days, I knew it, I would wake up in the Real World. Where the rules are simple, and everybody is a Good Person. Just like me.

(Then a miracle occurred. The machine didn't give the money: the code was wrong, it said. The guy told me to type it again. I disobeyed and pressed the "Cancel" button. He left.

I walked into the restaurant. I didn't need cash after all, I could pay with my credit card. The waitress had a meaningless professional smile on her face. She had seen nothing. My hands were still shaking with anger and shame.)

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