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.