Paris Under Attack Again…
I haven’t managed to collect my thoughts about what happened last Friday in Paris yet, enough to know what to say. Like so many others, the news has me stunned, saddened, reeling.
But it felt wrong to leave the home page of this blog still stuck on last Wednesday’s post, a post about honoring and remembering past French losses: painful losses to be sure, but losses somewhat softened by the passage of time.
So I decided to use this space to share a few of the thoughts my family and friends have shared in the aftermath of the dreadful events of November 13 in Paris.
In the first 24 hours of the crisis, my son Phineas posted this note on Facebook: “During my childhood, my family would go to Paris every summer. I learned to rollerblade there, spent hours in parks and cafes with my dad and brother, collected bottle caps in front of the Eiffel Tower, participated in exchange programs, and have gone back to visit multiple times. I consider Paris to be just as much my home as I do New York, D.C., and St. Paul. I’m an American, but I feel confused and devastated, as I can only imagine so many French people are feeling right now. Sending prayers to everyone affected by tonight’s horrifying acts of terrorism. #IAmParis #StandWithParis.”
Later that day, Stevie Borrello, one of the students who participated in the Queens College (CUNY) literature class I teach in Paris each summer, posted this note on her page:
“Almost two years ago, my life changed when I traveled abroad for my first time – and on my own. I landed in a city where I had no knowledge of the language or customs, yet I had a feeling Paris was where I needed to be. Its history was constantly prevalent, like a heartbeat under the cobblestone streets. And it was through that history that I learned of all the tenacity and perseverance of the French people. During several moments in its history it seemed as though Paris would not survive, so much so that Germany was once so close from completely destroying the city during World War II. But Paris was stronger and continued to stay alive. Now, when I hear and witness this tragic moment in Paris history I feel my heart shatter. Yet I cannot let the pieces fall apart, because I know I must stay strong and support the people of Paris. Because, as history shows, Paris has fought and been determined not to fall into pieces and become a sentimental moment in history. It continues to show that tragedy is temporary – not forgotten – and that maintaining the beauty and resilience of the city is worth every amount of energy it takes to persevere. Tonight, I pray for Paris and am grateful that my friends there are safe. You are all in my thoughts as I support and hope that Paris will cope and grow from this tragedy.”
Yesterday, as new violence erupted in St. Denis, came this post from my friend David Downie, author of several wonderful books about Paris, a post that, at least to me is comforting for the sense of historical perspective, and thus calm, he evokes: “Here’s how I like to think of St-Denis: not terrorists and France’s first female suicide bomber, who blew herself up a couple of hours ago during a SWAT-team raid on the terror cell’s hideout in St-Denis… but art, history, architecture, civilization… the French Revolution did a number on the basilica and its royal tombs, but St-Denis as a place and an institution and a many-sided symbol survived, just as this lively suburb and indeed all of Paris will survive and thrive and continue to love life, liberty and the pursuit of something akin to happiness… Joy, happiness, positivity, productivity and all life-enhancing states of being are what will defeat the sad, ignorant, brain-washed, hateful, misguided nihilistic individuals behind the continuing attacks… soon they, like the Jacobins with their pikes, sledge hammers and guillotine, or the brutal Napoleon III and occupying Nazis, will be gone, piles of dust and bad memories, blips on the very wide screen of this very old, very deep, very complex city and civilization...”
And this morning, another friend, Gary Lee Kraut, editor of France Revisited, published an extraordinarily wise and beautiful essay, directed toward “those (re)considering coming to Paris,” but good for everyone to read. You can read it here.
The motto of Paris, since at least 1358, has been Fluctuat nec mergitur, which means “Tossed about but not sunk.” It suggests a gritty endurance that is also historical fact.
Whatever lies ahead, there is comfort–and strength–to be drawn from that.
Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher who divides her time between the Washington D.C. area, and France. She writes frequently for Bonjour Paris and France Revisited, and each summer she teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the education abroad program at Queens College of the City University of New York. She also teaches literature classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C., and Writing from the Heart workshop/retreats in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region.