Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
To know Paris is to know a great deal. What eloquent surprises at every turn of the street. To get lost here is an adventure extraordinary. The streets sing, the stones talk. The houses drip history, glory, romance. — Henry Miller
I’ve been struggling to write this post all week long. I wasn’t sure what to say (if anything) and I wrote (and discarded) multiple drafts (all of them in my head).
Then I saw the pictures of the millions of Parisians gathered today in the streets of Paris. Once I saw those photos, I knew which of the thousands of photos I had taken in Paris I should post.
And once I had a photo, I had the words.
Paris is close to my heart. I’ve had the privilege to visit this beautiful, amazing, perplexing, and frustrating city five times over three decades. My first visit lasted less than 24 hours; my last, just shy of three months. After Vancouver, it is my favourite place in the world.
But it wasn’t always.
I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Paris ― ironically, it was in Place de la République, the square where thousands of Parisians have gathered throughout this awful week. I was eating dinner with my father on a raised terrace overlooking the square. We had arrived in Paris just that afternoon after travelling by Eurail throughout Germany. Earlier in the week, we had had a conversation about which European city each of us could see ourselves living in. I couldn’t choose ― not one said “home” to me in the way I wanted it to.
Until that moment. As I gazed out at the trees along the boulevard, I thought to myself, “I can see myself living here” ― and before the thought had fully formed in my brain, my dad said it out loud for me. “You’d like to live here, wouldn’t you?” To my knowledge, he’s never read my mind before (or since), but he did that summer evening.
I’ve been in love with Paris ever since.
This week, my heart has been aching for Paris while I struggled to find the words to express my feelings and thoughts.
Today, Parisians took to their city’s streets in unprecedented numbers. The first reports described it as the largest demonstration since Paris’s liberation from Nazi Germany in August 1944. By the end of the day, the news media described the rally as the largest demonstration ever in French history. Ever. That is indeed unprecedented.
Tomorrow, Paris will begin to redefine itself, as it has so many times before after so many other violent, horrific events in its long and storied history. We don’t ― none of us ― have the distance and perspective necessary to understand what this week has done to the city. That will come, in time.
And so, for now, all I have is this photo, which I took on Armistice Day, 2010.