Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Fluctuat Nec Mergitur

Wave-Tossed but Not Sunk

The use of social media has many side effects.  Allows us to stay in touch with friends and family far away.  Archives our memories .  Provides us with fora for arguing about trivia like the theme on holiday coffee cups.

The Facebook "robot" picks posts from the past to remind of moments. From time to time, I will receive a suggestion about a memory from two or three of five years ago.

Saturday morning when I woke, as I was drinking my coffee (from a mug my son got as a gift during a class trip to San Diego, not the controversial, plain, red, paper cup) I received a suggestion about a memory one year ago.

I was a bit sad to get the suggestion - an image from one year ago, returning on a Friday night from work, to our apartment in Paris. Some tulips, and then out for dinner at a nearby neighbourhood restaurant.

Probably not unlike one of the venues that witnessed so much bloodshed the day before.

Just one year ago, yet seemingly an eternity.  

No Charlie Hebdo shooting. 

No murders at Hypercasher.

No massacre across Paris.

None of these things had happened yet; but the wheels were likely already well in motion.  The ball had been dropped into the top of the little mousetrap, and it was simply a matter of time - borrowed time - before the events unfolded.

I've been thinking of Paris and France a lot over the past four days, as I suspect many have.  I'm not French by birth, but we spent a couple of years living in Paris, and we think of the city as a sort of second home.  Many friends were left behind (thankfully, all are safe).  

I reflect on long, summer evenings (France sits much further north than most Americans realise, so dusk in July comes after 10 PM).  Walking with my family to the many small restaurants for dinner, or a picnic with a bottle of rose by the Seine.  Popping in to the boulangerie for a baguette de tradition or on the odd occasion, to Dalloyau across the street for some macarons.  Taking my little boy to school, strolling past the Haussmann buildings along the Parc Monceau or floating a little sailboat in the Grand Bassin at the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Exploring a six hundred year old church.

Americans have a very complicated relationship with France generally, but ours (my family's) is quite simple, actually.  France for two years was home, and thus what has happened has certainly had an effect.

I wonder, what is likely to change in Paris following these terrible events?  The Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has cautioned that there may be similar terrible days to come.  Of course, it would be irresponsible to state otherwise.  The French have a system called vigipirate to alert residents to dangers - initiated in 1978, two and a half decades before 9/11 and the US Department of Homeland Security.  

Parisians will likely be more alert, more vigilant to potential threats.  But murderous acts of terrorism like this are sadly, not new.  

I've remained connected to French social media since returning to the US this summer, and glimmers of defiance mixed with desire to normalcy are apparent.  French journalist Antoine Leiris today published an open letter to ISIS, responding to the murder of his wife and the mother of his year and a half old son:

Je n’ai d’ailleurs pas plus de temps à vous consacrer, je dois rejoindre Melvil qui se réveille de sa sieste. Il a 17 mois à peine, il va manger son goûter comme tous les jours, puis nous allons jouer comme tous les jours et toute sa vie ce petit garçon vous fera l’affront d’être heureux et libre.
(I have no more time to waste on you. I have to join Melvil [the little boy] who is waking from his nap.  He is just 17 months old; he is going to eat his snack, like always.  Then, we are going to play.  Like always.  And for all of his life, this little boy will offend you with his happiness and his freedom)  
The French have contributed enormously to the culture of the world - through food, and wine, and art, and architecture, and science. France is the land of Descartes and Rousseau and Voltaire. The Louvre, the Eiffer Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral.

But more than anything, the French have given to the world a joy of living.  I suspect that no bomb from a seventh century savage is a match for that.

And thus, like little Melvil, I believe that the people in Paris will have their meal.  Like every day.  Many will go enjoy the park.  Like every day.  Still others will have a glass of wine with friends.  Like always.

Today, there is a call across various media and other outlets for a movement called "tous a bistro." (everyone to the restaurant).  The expressed goal is for people to leave their fears in the cupboard at home, go down the street to the corner restaurant, and sit for a meal with family and friends.  

What could be a more French reaction than that?

Fluctuat nec mergitur.

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