I waited as long as I could.
I held off writing this post to get some distance from November 13 and also because there were already so many other really good comments on what happened in blogs and online news magazines that I follow and respect. As a lot of you know, I had just returned from Paris when the violence hit. I was immediately flooded with emails and texts from family and friends—most whom knew full well I was home and safe—but I think they just needed to reach out.
When something like this happens—tragic and senseless in a world so many of us work hard to structure and frame to fit our lives—I think a lot of people inevitably think of how it would feel if it had been a loved one of theirs sitting in Le Petit Cambodge that night, or who’d gone off to a concert full of good spirits and bonhomie.
When I look at the photos from my trip of the cafés I visited or the bookshops I wandered through, I can’t help but think that the last thing on my mind when I was there was that I might get shot. When I think back on that one perfect Friday—one week before the terrible one—when I strode down boulevard Haussmann on my way to Le Printemps for a blissful afternoon of shopping with magic sprinkled on every moment—it’s inconceivable that such determined ugliness could have been hiding down one of the picturesque alleyways.
When I look at the mind blowing Christmas decorations at Gallerie Lafayette—which I
saw three years ago on my birthday and the enchantment of which still hasn’t worn off—I can’t help but think what a perfect target it is. Because it’s beautiful and exists largely to enchant.
So much of my life back home is utilitarian and structured to enable me more easily to get things done. But the idea of Paris isn’t like that. The idea of Paris is unnecessary perfection, of superfluous beauty.
Did you know there are lights hidden all along many of the bridges in Paris? And when it gets dark they light up so you can still see the exquisite details of the architecture? And even then only if you’re on a boat traveling under it? What other city do you know is show lighted—not so you can find your way around but so you can appreciate the details of its beauty even after dark?
This last time when I walked down its beautiful boulevards, lined on both sides by the classic Haussmann buildings that have defined Paris architecture for two hundred years, I saw so many things that had to have been created for the sole purpose to delight.
At one point when I was spending too much time in a perfume shop across from the Louvre (is there really such a thing as spending too much time in a perfume shop?) my husband—who was waiting outside—had the opportunity to note a very special design on the façade of the Louvre that he’d never seen before. Honestly, unless you were a bored husband waiting for your wife in a perfume shop or somebody just sitting in a café with the whole day at his feet, you probably wouldn’t even notice.
But it’s there. Waiting for you to see and marvel. Subtle and perfect. Like Paris itself.
The main purpose of this latest trip to Paris was to research the mystery I was writing which takes place in the Latin Quarter and centers around the German occupation at the time. Because of that I’ve read a good deal—both fiction and nonfiction—about the time period. After the November attacks, I couldn’t help but draw an indelible connection between what ISIS is doing and what Hitler did.
I spent a good deal of time this last trip wandering over ancient cobblestones, winding my way through the narrow alleys of the Latin Quarter, reading plaques that talked about young people who were shot down in the last days of the liberation of Paris, seeing bullet holes embedded in the stone façades of the beautiful Haussmann buildings, and reading signs that intoned how whole groups of people were murdered in the square by the Nazis. I shivered to think of this graceful and elegant city and how it had endured such terror.
Little did I know.
I’m not political but I think it’s safe to say that most normal people are against the kind of evil demonstrated by the monsters who destroyed so many lives in Paris on November 13. And I know why they continue to attack Paris as opposed to San Francisco or Miami or Seville—or even London.
It’s because killing innocent people isn’t enough for these kinds of terrorists. Robbing children of parents and vice-versa, ripping families and friends apart, of handicapping healthy happy people mentally and physically—that’s not enough for them.
They want to destroy the very essence of the good life. And where else in the world is that more true than in Paris? If you wanted to make a statement against the one place on earth that exists largely to give people pleasure, you’d have to pick Paris.
And I certainly will, time and time again, no matter what.