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La France

January 10, 2015

I was lucky to find an apartment to rent in Paris in Montmartre.  The landlord lived in Belgium, and the local woman who managed and cleaned the flat lived in the same block.  This was long before Air bnb, but I found the place to be perfect for me.  My block was a highly Arabic space, including an Egyptian convenience mart on the main floor of my building. I shopped there first, finding all kinds of delights and basic grocery items.  All the merchants, particularly the Egyptian grocer, were helpful and ultra polite.  My metro stop was Barbès – Rochechouart, right in front of a large Tati store. Tati is a Parisian version of a low price emporium.  Since they are French, rather than have a giant “big box” arrangement, they have zillions of tiny specific departments, from which you must pay and check out before proceeding.  I had a hysterical incident at that Tati store when I tried to buy paper plates from a Chinese guy who spoke French about as well as I did (pas bien).  I was using the word plate, which he translated into prepared dish of food .  He told me many times they did not have what I wanted, but I persisted.  Finally he showed me plastic replicas of food, toys for kids.  This showed me what had gone wrong and I managed to score those paper plates. I never felt threatened or out-of-place in my neighborhood, although I was experiencing the rare feeling of being a minority.  I always heard French people were snooty, but I did not notice any of that.  They even seemed to like to speak English when they had the chance.

When I think of the city of lights in the current state of shock I know I would be afraid to be there now.  In fact, the last time I had reserved that Montmartre flat for a holiday I canceled and forfeited my rent because 9/11 had occurred and I felt uncertain about being single and American in my old neighborhood.  My French had not improved and I did not see the reason to risk arriving and feeling unsafe.  Like other cities where I had created beautiful and lasting memories I let it Paris go as a destination.  I remain attached to the places and the experiences, even to the people whose names I never learned.  Paris stays in my heart as sophisticated, artful, cosmopolitan, highly civilized and full of history.  Recent events leave La France in trauma, in need of healing.  I can’t say I feel the pain of the French people, but I do feel terrible loss.  Parisians had managed to live in harmony with all kinds of ethnic and cultural deviations.  Their cosmopolitan way of seeing the world served as a foundation for tolerance.  The city has lost an innocence that can’t be replaced.  The world grieves. Cartoonists reach into their deepest wells of talent and art to express outrage.  The next New Yorker cover will depict the Eiffel Tower with a pencil top to show defiance.  France has elevated the meaning of art for centuries.  Freedom of expression is essential to the regular French citizen.  This may be a time when art and politics merge for the better.  In the words of Jean Paul Sartre, “There may be more beautiful times, but this one is ours.”

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comments

Totally agree with you Pam.. what affects one, affects the collective when it comes to this kind of violence. It is not a situation of hurting just one or a few.. but this affects people on both sides of the Atlantic

Like

Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

January 11, 2015

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