Marianne in mourning

Marianne pleureTears and other public displays of emotion are not characteristic of the French. But while they may not smile and laugh all the time that does not mean the French don’t feel things. Deeply.

Marianne is in mourning. For three days the nation will wear black, mourn its dead, weep for so many innocent lives lost in Paris on November 13, 2015. There will be anger, there will be sadness and regret. These feelings will erupt only occasionally into tears and shouting. Mostly, there will be small acts of kindness, like those of the strangers who took in blood-stained victims from the street and let them shower, who offered food and shelter for a few hours until the siege was over. Like the gesture of this spontaneous embrace captured when shots last rang out in Paris.

There is no accordion music playing in the streets of Paris — not today or any other day. Paris is not the romantic city of postcards, of Hollywood movies, although if you spend any time there you will experience moments of pure magic. Perhaps you will love its joie de vivre all the more for the fact that it takes place against a backdrop of restraint.

I am not a Parisian but a little piece of my heart will always be there. We lived in Paris for most of 1986 before getting married here. Our apartment was in the 7th arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Eiffel tower. It was a short time but one that left an indelible mark in my memory. Paris is indeed a moveable feast.

There was a wave of terror attacks in Paris that year. As a Canadian abroad, it was the first time I had encountered machine-gun toting police in the street. We lived with what became for me the constant fear of bombs in the metro, in the cinemas and the shops. I learned the French word for terrorist act – attentat – and became familiar with the identity checks and security measures of the plan ‘Vigipirate’.

Like many of my compatriots here in France, I have felt numb since waking to the news of Friday’s attacks. Perhaps it was to be expected. Since we reeled from the cold-blooded murders at Charlie Hebdo in January, there have been many reported terror attempts – fortunately failed. Lest we forget, France is still public enemy number one of Daesh.

And like many of my fellow countrymen, I wonder why. Why are we fighting a war that cannot be won, at least not with bombs? Why can’t we fix our own broken social system so that French-born Muslims provide less fertile ground for extremism? It’s complicated and I don’t have any answers, other than the obvious one: life is precious. Any life lost to evil, whether in Paris or Beirut, must be mourned.

Marianne is crying but it is not out of self pity. Let us shed a tear for Paris, and for her victims, but no more.

The world needs light and undying love and for this reason Paris will continue to shine.

Vive la France.


  1. Osyth · November 16, 2015

    Beautifully written from the heart to the heart. You are so right – we need to fix what is broken. Give people a standard of living that leaves them less susceptible. Bombs and guns never fix a thing. They just destroy. What we need is human kindness. Let’s hope that the stuffed shirts of the political establishment, those elected to the power seats might this time think the same.

    • MELewis · November 16, 2015

      Osyth, I can only thank you for providing an eloquent echo to my sentiments. It is heartening to know that others see the need for far-reaching solutions. Seems that our politiques, unfortunately, are not going in that direction as I read of retaliatory military strikes on Daesh this morning.

      • Osyth · November 16, 2015

        Futile actions from arrogant fools. And the absolute irony is that les home politiques francais, anglais, americain all get up in arms (quite literally) about Russia and yet they go out and use the same moronic tactics. I try not to despair.

  2. Osyth · November 16, 2015

    That’s les hommes by the way 😉

    • Mél@nie · November 16, 2015

      yep… je te cite:”I try not to despair.” – same here… even though it’s sooo hard nowadays!!! But I’m a sturdy Cappy gal… 😉

  3. memoirsofahusk · November 16, 2015

    Yes, indeed. I just watched a You Tube from the Artist Taxi Driver (a performance artist) about bombs – there are never enough bombs. I found it powerful and moving but it’s probably not to everyone’s taste.It ends by petering out … That’s how I feel. I, like you, feel as if there must be a way, if we really try, if we share genuine care and compassion, there could be peace – but it never seems to last. I too remember the fear of life lived in a terrorist-plagued capital – but London, where I lived during several of the terrible years of IRA bombs, assassinations and shootings. Each journey on the tube felt like it could be my last. But we are here – and we have learned what? The frustration for ‘ordinary’ people is immense and the temptation to adopt extremisms of opinion against the ‘other’ and the desire to bomb to bits in revenge overwhelming for too many. Thank you for this. And heartfelt sympathy.

    • MELewis · November 16, 2015

      It’s funny, I was just telling my daughter about the IRA bombs in London….seems that younger generations associate terror attacks uniquely with Islam. How quickly we forget…. Merci for these thoughtful comments!

  4. coteetcampagne · November 16, 2015

    so many of us have the same common sense view that far reaching solutions and policy shifts must be implemented.
    Listen to the people; all my French friends concur.
    Governments must get together and talk and listen. Someone influential and respected needs to stick their neck out.
    I stick my neck above the parapet everyday in my job; so why don’t our governments feel the weight and responsibility that moves them to do this and implement radical change? A considered collective policy is needed.

    Like Osyth, am cynical …. I so wish that I weren’t

    • MELewis · November 16, 2015

      It’s hard not to become cynical, although I agree it’s not the answer. Seems a short leap to indifference… But I am truly heartened to hear that others share the idea that deeper solutions are needed. In dark times, hope springs.

      • coteetcampagne · November 16, 2015

        I believe that if any serious dialogue is instigated it will be at the behest of Ms A. M, and when she barks , other European nations may jump..
        I really don’t are how a change comes about as long as it comes about now

      • coteetcampagne · November 16, 2015

        Sorry, that should say “care” not “are” below.
        If so many people feel like we do, then maybe there is hope for change

  5. Maison Bentley Style · November 16, 2015

    I shed a tear with you. For life, for ignorance, for anger, for peace. xxxxxxx

    • MELewis · November 16, 2015

      A very heartfelt tear it is. Merci!

  6. Suzanne et Pierre · November 16, 2015

    I have also been trying to make sense of the events all weekend. We spent all of Friday night glued to our TV trying to understand what was happening. We even heard some of the explosions at the Bataclan live as a Canadian reporter was explaining the best he could what the current chaos was like in the street of Paris. This attack has hit us very hard as this area was our playground for 2 1/2 years. Fortunately we heard quickly that all of our friends were safe though we do still cry for all of the innocent victims.

    I certainly hope that our governments will react sensibly to these attacks and won’t curtail too much civil liberties and freedom of expression because it would be playing into the hands of the terrorists. We also need to continue to open our doors to Syrian Refugees as they are also innocent victims…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · November 16, 2015

      Thanks for sharing that, Suzanne. How awful it must be for you to watch from afar having recently spent so much time in that part of Paris! I can only imagine how terrifying it was for anyone to have be on the scene amidst all the chaos and confusion. I agree with your sentiment: we need to keep our borders open and not allow terror to rule. Easier said…

  7. George Lewis · November 16, 2015

    Very well said

  8. Mél@nie · November 16, 2015

    impressive and emotional… merci de tout coeur! ❤
    * * *
    @"Paris will continue to shine." – you bet!!! even though I'm only "naturalisée française", I've lived in France, ma patrie for over 35 years, and Paris is mon coeur: we lived there 8 years and our 2 kids were born dans notre capitale! ❤ I have NO fear, just like after "9/11"(I was in Houston, TX by then!), I'll fly there this coming week-end to visit with one of our "old babies"…

    • MELewis · November 16, 2015

      Thanks for sharing those sentiments, chère Mélanie. You fearless heart and passionate spirit combine the best of two great nations. Safe travels! xo

  9. Colin Bisset · November 16, 2015

    Beautifully said.

  10. davidprosser · November 17, 2015

    You know how much I agree with you chere ami. People must get tired of me harping on about Hugs and how we should extend them to others. So many people now live under the rule of fear from Daesh they must feel forgotten by us and yet all they want to do is to be allowed to live normal lives.
    We must remember just what a small minority these animals (sorry animals) are and that the majority of Moslems feel just as disgusted by the killings as everyone else. France has suffered it’s second terrible blow this year and it may want to react against those that did this, who could blame them. But wasn’t it a Moslem who refused admission to a bomber to the football stadium ? A Moslem who like many others thought of himself as French first maybe.
    The Moslem community there may be fertile ground for extremism amongst the young but perhaps that’s a result of us offering bombs to Daesh and also taking innocent civilian’s lives whose families then become converts seeking revenge. If we in Europe can stop killing and offer hope (and Hugs) to the refugees maybe we’ll start winning hearts and minds and Daesh less converts.
    The people need to be freed from this kind of religious oppression but better the end comes from within than from without.The Kurds have been successful at fighting back against this evil and yet our own allies the Turks treat the Kurds with contempt.
    (and worse).
    It’s really time our Governments were told by the people that the killing must stop, that fighting for oil is not a good reason to invade somewhere. We must make sure we offer the hand of friendship to others without expecting them to change who they are and we must start respecting the differences between us and stop fearing them. If we develop world of understanding, maybe the peevish little men who want to shape other’s lives with fear, will disappear altogether.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx My thoughts are with France and it’s brave people.

    • MELewis · November 17, 2015

      Very moving response, David, so thoughtful and full of love – rather like the author, I’d say. You have the ability to empathize and see the point of view from the other side, which is rare these days. Yes, the solution must come from within, we must stop responding with more violence and instead of closing our borders, keep them and our hearts open. Merci mille fois! xo

  11. Lisa @ cheergerm · November 17, 2015

    Beautifully expressed. Definitely deeper solutions are needed and a lot more love and acceptance. Sending love and light the way of France and Beirut.

    • MELewis · November 17, 2015

      Love, light and honeycake – let’s make a chain around the world! 🙂

  12. Multifarious meanderings · November 22, 2015

    Beautifully written – well done. I’m stil looking hard inside me but all I can find for the moment is sadness, anger and revolt. This time they attacked civilians and the very raison d’être of the French. By hitting civilians they are trying to create discord and fear between us.
    The Marseillaise is being sung at the vast majority of events around the country, and with the Régionales elections coming up, the FN will be surfing the patriotic wave. I hope that people are wise enough to make the difference between patriotism and xenophobia.

    • MELewis · November 22, 2015

      Merci, my dear MM. I feel your anger and outrage. As you say, they have hit us where we live. All the more tragically, almost all of the victims were young and at their prime of lives. Oddly, I feel more numb than angry. Somehow after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it seems that no act of violence, whether random or calculated, is beyond imagining. I can only hope and trust that the majority of French voters will not be (mis)led into voting for Le Pen. It would be to dishonour the memory of those 130 lives lost.

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