Paris, Toujours Paris

  • Tom Glocer
  • January 18, 2016
  • 0

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

I have always loved Apollinaire’s poem, Le Pont Mirabeau, for capturing the flow of time like the flow of the great river through Paris. The tranquility and humanity of poetry was a natural refuge after the deranged violence of November’s terror attacks in Paris.

I made my first trip of the new year to Paris last week and I found the city changed in some important ways, but timeless as ever in its architectural elegance. The changes were not subtle. In front of every major store along the Champs-Élysées, Avenue Montaigne and Boulevard St. Germain, there were security guards posted at the entrance. They passed their buzzing, metal detecting wands over shoppers’ bulky coats and rummaged through their bulging bags. It made me think more of tightly controlled Tel Aviv after the bus bombings than the normally open café society of Paris.

In other ways, Paris remained defiant and beautiful. The new Foundation Louis Vuitton museum in the Bois de Boulogne stood out against a cold winter sky, still worth a visit for its Frank Gehry architecture even with its galleries closed between shows. And Parisians outnumbered tourists huddled around outdoor heaters in the suddenly insecure  terraces of the city.

As I walked across Paris, letting my feet guide me along paths both familiar and occasionally new, I asked myself what has changed in France and what still needs to change. First, the French security services have taken advantage of their enhanced freedom to act under the state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the Paris attacks and done much more than “round up the usual suspects.” While still understaffed, they have undoubtedly foiled several follow-on attacks. Second, France has chosen to take the fight outside its borders to hit back against Daesh (IS) in the Middle East and Africa. While this military action may be more symbolic than effective, it does inspire confidence at home in the face of the terror.

However, what France really needs to do is make up for 50 years of not so benign neglect of its Muslim immigrants and take affirmative steps to begin their economic and cultural integration into French society. When it was only a question of the periodic uprising of the Paris “banlieus,” replete with their ritual overturned car burnings, the French establishment could afford to make speeches but do little. However, with the battle now much more lethal and directed to the center of Paris, the need for action is clear.

Unfortunately, the solution is not a quick fix, but must be pursued with unflagging energy for a generation. For motivation, we have fortunately been given the beauty and poetry of Paris. As Henry IV declared in an admittedly different context, “Paris vaut une messe.”

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