Here’s to Paris!

Photo by NYT
Paris is, of course, a real city, but it is also a city to which we
grant mythical powers. The “city of light” we call it. Paris is romantic. Paris
is delicious and chic and sophisticated, and occasionally, naughty. I bet it
would be easier to count the number of people who don’t want to go to Paris
than to count those who do. The Eiffel Tower, these days, presides over it all,
but royal splendors (Versaille, the Tuileries, the Bois de Bologne) still
anchor Paris and remind us that Paris was just as exciting historically as it
is today.
So this week when we saw Paris’ famous wit temporarily silenced by
real life bullets and by terrorists who want to destroy everything Paris and
other Western cities do, say, wear, or think, it is shocking, it is discordant
– however inured we should be to such attacks (but never will be). These people
who live in Paris but don’t feel like Parisians are there because France is a
remnant of an imperialistic Europe, and their nation was once a French colony.
Old hostilities remain and there are modern social challenges which keep these self-imported
French citizens separate and unequal. So after much negative experience some
citizens become immune to the magical persona of Paris and they pledge to
martyr themselves to their beliefs for rewards in an afterlife which they
imagine will be far better than life in Paris.
To murder journalists in order to obliterate their opinions seems such
a naïve act of defiance, an act that suggests its perpetrators think the human
mind, presented with sufficient fear, will stop functioning or will at least
keep its more satirical productions to itself. 
History has taught us that if you kill one dissenting voice, one clever
artist, others will bubble up to take their place. And if, eventually, you
silence all the wryly humorous voices and all the dissenters, the next
generation will spawn a new bunch, because this is how human beings function in
an imperfect world.
Paris is not tarnished by this violence; after all, Paris has survived
and survived and survived. The myth even stays in place above our increasing
understanding that Paris is dealing with, and must continue to deal with, the
same problems of all modern cities in these days of our shrinking planet.
It was wonderful to see Paris show up (tout le monde) to dispel the
pall of death and intolerance and to celebrate the courage of the journalist
Charlie Hebdo and all of his fellow writers at the magazine that bore his name.
This is the same affirmation we saw in Boston, but Europe is better at this
than we are. That crowd in Paris was enormous and they took back their city. We
suspect that this is not the last incident in this “war” that is conducted in
hit-and-run fashion, the strangest war ever with an enemy whose ways we would
like to respect but can’t because they cannot accept ours.
  

Here’s to you, Paris. You have the world on its feet in solidarity to
insist on the right to free speech.
I wish I felt as brave as Charlie Hebdo and
his compatriots were.
By Nancy Brisson