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Now we don’t even have Paris

November 19th, 2015

It was the movie line that earned its place in cliché history – Ingrid Berman to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “We’ll always have Paris.

Often paraphrased down the years as “At least we had Paris”, or “But we’ll always have Paris”, it summed up nostalgia for a perfect time, an interlude of love and beauty.

Perhaps it was sometimes used ironically or mocked, but used it was, with all the attendant mental pictures of the Eiffel Tower, bridges over the Seine, candlelit dinners and accordion music in the streets.

Now we – in the West, or wherever people felt love or awe for the French capital – don’t even have that.

The summary random murders of 130 people (and don’t forget the dozens left with that chilling description, “life-changing injuries”) has cast a grim shadow over Paris, at least for current generations.

The brillian Robert Fisk, jorunalist and historian, is right to point out that the Friday 13 attacks were not the worst atrocity in modern times: 200 French Algerians were slaughered by Maurice Papon’s police in 1961. And mass media should also make sure that other Islamist terror attacks, such as the one which killed 43 people in Beirut only days before November 13, should be recalled. To give balance and begin to answer “why?”, the continual loss of life in public places such as markets in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Western invasion of 2003 were also individual human tragedies – in their thousands.

But for now, the notion of Paris as a beautiful, romantic, sensual monument to modern achievement, especially French, is in dreadful abeyance. Perhaps it’s another step in mankind’s journey, or a contemporary society’s journey, from hope and innocence to grim realisation; life is beautiful, but it is more often terrible, and there will always be zealots and criminals who seek to bring illusions of peace and tranquility to a bitter end.

Personally, I am not a Parisophile – give me Madrid or Barcelona. My most abiding, unfortunate memory of Paris is what we shall delicately term a hygiene lapse in the bathrooms of a busy, not cheap, restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Michel. And my husband, an architect, spent much of a weekend visit some years back muttering that our chic boutique hotel was a firetrap. Paris is expensive, not always so clean, and it’s hard to appreciate Haussmann’s masterful radius plan when queuing in the rain for the Louvre.

But there is nowhere like Paris, for the dreams, aspirations and ambitions of countless people all over the world, for centuries. The beauty of the language, both spoken and written, the fabulous quality of the food at all levels, the style of the people, the exquisite fashions, the grandeur of Les Invalides – they all remain. But the City of Light as we look to 2016 has a dark shadow over it, with an assault weapon in his bloody hand.

 

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