My husband and I are going to Paris in a few weeks. We two Yankees are going to sit through a very long passport control. We will see armed soldiers. Many people around us will be dour and quiet. It will probably feel like post-9/11 in New York. The tourists, who don't flock to Paris in December anyway, will be fewer than normal, and the waiters, bartenders and cab drivers who depend on them will feel the pinch. The outward grey of early winter will reflect the sadness in everyone's hearts.
Friends have asked us, "Aren't you afraid to go?"
"That's exactly what Daesh wants," I frown. (Daesh is the term for ISIS that the terrorists despise). "They want to instill fear, hurt the French and the world economy, and have us all cringing under our beds. Of course we're going!"
As the NY Times' Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, last Friday's attack demonstrated that Daesh's strategy of random murder reflects their fundamental weakness. "It isn't going to establish a caliphate in Paris," Krugman writes. "What it can do, however, is inspire fear -- which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn't dignify it with the name of war."
We're coming back to Paris to stand against fear. We'll be attending a conference attended by people all over the world who are working hard to make positive change. Our Air B&B is close to the Louvre. After the conference, we will walk beloved left-bank streets, stroll the Tuileries, visit cafes, have dinner with friends, enjoy wonderful coffee and croissants, return to the Musée D'Orsay, take cabs and the Métro, maybe take in a show at the Comédie-Française, and enjoy being in so many of our favorite places in this beloved city. In our tiny way, we're going to help support the Paris economy with our tourist dollars.
We're coming back to Paris to show that the terrorists can't win, and that most Americans don't agree with the xenophobic, reactionary and ignorant non-ideas that the extreme right-wing politicians in our country (and in France) like to spew. If the Bush-Cheney administration's response to the 9/11 demonstrated anything, it showed that violence begets more violence. Attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 fed the radicalism that produced Daesh.
We're coming back to the City of Light to defy darkness, as Parisians have done for more than a thousand years. We will practice our imperfect French and feel grateful to be in a beautiful, sorrowful, ancient but amazingly robust city that has been stricken by terror, disease, starvation, bombardments, wars, sieges and other horrors dozens of times over the centuries.
We're coming back to hear the people sing. In Paris, the people are always singing. Not long after my husband and I got married, we stayed at a little hotel near Montmartre. The evening before we were set to leave, I walked to the steps of Sacré Coeur where hundreds of young people had gathered beneath a huge full moon. Someone with a guitar started playing "Imagine" and all these kids began singing along. It was a moment in which I felt enormous love and hope for the world.
One of my favorite songs, from the great Jacques Brel, is "Les Prénoms de Paris" ("The Names of Paris"). It's about an expectant love tryst in the City of Light. The end of the song, Brel sings with all his heart and lungs, "Paris, je reviens! ("Paris, I'm coming back!"). I learned French because I loved Brel's songs, which are at least as powerful as anything Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen ever wrote. (Any songwriter who wants to make you learn a foreign language is damn good.)
But "Les Prénoms de Paris" also reflects the boomerang quality that Paris has. Paris bounces back to itself; people who live there or have visited it bounce back to it. Paris is the definition of resilience. And resilience, and the rejection of ignorance and fear, is what we all need most now.