Some of the fondest memories of my life were forged in Paris. I went there for the first time in 1995 with my French comparative literature professor and a bunch of students. I’d just spent a semester studying medieval Paris and medieval French literature, then I got to go and actually see all the medieval (and modern) places that inspired it all. (I minored in French language and literature in college, after taking my very first French class ever as a college sophomore. You could say the language and culture really grew on me, and fast.)
One of the best days/nights I ever had there was sitting in a balcony in Paris’ Montparnasse neighborhood at the Hotel Lenox, on Rue Delambre, drinking cheap locally made wine and cheese procured from a Texaco (yep!) near the Palace of Versailles because it was a national holiday and everything else was closed. The wine was glorious, the cheese sublime. I am convinced that they don’t let the good stuff out of the country. Even their junk food is amazing.
Why is Paris the most beautiful (and most visited) city on earth? Why are the French so revered for their culture and art? Why is their food amazing? Because they are liberal, peace-loving, equality-supporting, civilized humans. More so than anyone else on earth, I think.
Sure, they aren’t perfect. They had those horrid penal colonies in Belize. Their track record in Indochine (now Vietnam) wasn’t great. (And don’t get me started on how they run their airports—-oy.) But all in all, the French are a great society that has done a tremendous amount of good in the world. There’s a reason all the best artists and designers in the world all go to Paris to study. There’s a reason why French philosophy has far-reaching implications. There’s a reason why they have more museums per capita than anyplace else on Earth. And there’s a reason why the whole world lit up with the French flag and singing of the Marseillaise after horror hit their capital.
The world lit up because the world owes it to France.
I am not likely to forget how I heard the news. I came home from running after-work errands (a trip to Target, picking up Chinese takeout) to discover that crazed lunatics were blowing stuff up and killing people in Paris. Terrorism is never OK, but terrorism in Paris that destroys both people and treasure really, really upsets me. Paris is so unique in its sheer magic that not even the Nazis would burn it down. (They left it stand, unharmed, totally intact, while trying to steal its portable art because it’s so valuable.)
When you’re even lower than Nazis in terms of your ethics, you have some serious soul-searching to do. Screw you, terrorists. You will accomplish nothing with this mayhem. And nobody messes with Paris and gets away with it. Nobody.
(If you don’t agree with my views on Paris, it’s because you haven’t been there.)
As President Obama has pointed out, France is our oldest ally. They were the first major power to recognize the USA as a sovereign state. We’d still be a British colony if they hadn’t come to save our butts in both 1776 and 1812. They provided mercenaries and other support during the Civil War. We purchased 2/3 of the Continental US from them. And even our system of constitutionally-based divided government is based on French philosophy.
I could go on.
And yet, American conservatives often make a hobby of insulting France and the French, and often tell American liberals (like moi) to shut up and just move to France if we don’t like it here. (As if telling people to move to France is an insult. Um, telling people to move to France as an insult is roughly equivalent to saying that we should send all of our convicted murderers to Disney World for the rest of their lives. And when they’re really bad in prison, we can sentence them to nonstop deep-tissue hot stone massages in front of a tropical waterfall instead of using solitary confinement. Riiiiiiiiiiiigggght.)
Um, yeah. A trip to France is never to be considered punishment. I mean, have you tried their macarons? And their wine? What about that glorious brie???!!! (And duck au poivre with dilled carrot salad on the side will force the staunchest atheist to believe in God.) And Montmartre, where there are literally dozens of artists sitting around who can paint a museum-quality portrait of you on the street in twenty minutes?
I have often grown tired of hearing my compatriots constantly dissing France over petty politics. What these small-minded people don’t understand is, America owes its very existence to France, three or four times over. (And no, we did not pay them back yet with our efforts in WWI and WWII. We still owe them at least a couple more centuries of dedicated service before we can call it even.)
This morning my son asked why anyone would want to target France. I told him, “The people that did this want to force a confrontation with the West, so they hit the capital of Western civilization.”
Now we know just what all those poor Syrian and Iraqi refugees are so desperately running away from. Wouldn’t you do the same? How would you feel in their shoes? Would you want a bunch of right-wingers calling for your head over something you had nothing to do with? (I think not).
However, some people on the right are using these attacks as an excuse to push a fascist agenda. Round up and deport (or kill) all the immigrants. Arm ordinary citizens and turn public spaces into war zones. Start World War III. Ad nauseum. Not because it’s required, but because their pre-existing political agenda of supporting both racism and the military-industrial complex requires it, and all so their colleagues in these aims can make some more money. (As we reporters say, “Always follow the money.”) No condolences offered to the bereaved, no discussion on how we can work towards peace. Just “Kill ’em all, and let God sort ’em out,” ad nauseum. (And then these people claim to be more civilized than the terrorists. Heh. I think not.)
Last night I attended a gala fundraiser for my kids’ school. I wore my French sweater emblazoned with tiny little Eiffel Towers all over it as part of my evening outfit, along with a French silk shawl. I got several compliments. I’d actually planned to wear this outfit well before Friday night’s events, which is ironic.
Speaking of irony, one of the other kids’ dads used my Eiffel-Tower sweater as an excuse for complaining about “politicians who won’t allow the arming of citizens.” Because he was absolutely sure that one random guy with a handgun and no tactical training would totally be able to take out a bunch of dudes with AK-47s. (Not to mention the fact that getting French people to go along with something like having guns everywhere isn’t exactly likely. If he really believes that, then perhaps I could interest him in some wonderful Florida swampland I have for sale, which is sure to appreciate in value despite its low altitude and proximity to rapidly rising sea levels. I also have the Brooklyn Bridge in the trunk of my car, and it’s for sale. Cheap.)
I cut him off at the pass. His wife appeared rather embarrassed as I told him off and went back to my seat.
Mind you, this was at a fundraiser for a Catholic school. (He clearly isn’t acquainted with Pope Francis.)
But I digress. Lately I haven’t blogged about anything unless it’s really important. Busy with work and life, you know. But any assault on the capital of civilization is important. Whether it’s the scary foreign terrorists who do it, or the scary people who walk among us and don’t appreciate their own civilization. They’re both equally bad. We would do right to point that out.