Because it was Paris, I thought it couldn’t be true. No, I thought. Not there. Not in Paris.
I was wrong.
Friday night, soulless terrorists inflicted senseless slaughter on the innocent in Paris. Brought death and darkness to the City of Light.
Paris. I cannot even say her name without sighing. Without remembering my first view of the Eiffel Tower. Riding the Paris metro. Sipping pastis at Les Deux Magots.
Paris. Where love, beauty, and joy reside. Where people around the world come to be inspired. Fall in love. Dream. Where the streets quiver with life and smell of French perfume. Where streetlights cast etherial streams of light on the Seine. Where conversations last until dawn. Where wine and food and life are devoured in equal portions.
This time, the terrorists went too far. This time, the price will be high. Not because the lives lost in Paris were more precious than the lives the terrorists took in Afghanistan, Algeria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen. But because Paris represents the best of who we can be.
Paris is personal. To the world.
I first fell in love with Paris in 1987, the year I lived in St. Genis, France with my young children and their father (my ex-husband). St. Genis was just over the border from Geneva, Switzerland and CERN. On weekends, we took trips to Paris on the TGV train. I will never forget watching my children ring the tower bell at Notre Dame, stand beneath the graceful ironwork of the Eiffel Tower, and sip velvety hot chocolate in a Parisienne cafe.
Many years later, Paris is where I spent romantic days and evenings with my husband, Steve. Through his architect eyes, I fell in love with Paris all over again. I saw the brilliance of the city’s street design, the glittering halls and sweeping staircase of Garnier’s Opera House. With him, Monet’s waterlilies seemed more dreamlike than before. I still remember the feel of Steve’s hand in mine as we strolled along the Seine. Lounged in cafes. Ate too much, drank too much, and couldn’t wait to do it again. Late at night, we walked through the shimmering city. Did what all lovers do: thanked Paris for her beauty and magic, laid out for only us.
Paris is also personal to me because of a 90-year-old Frenchman named Paul Fossat. My friendship with Paul was the shortest but most meaningful friendship of my life. This blog is dedicated to him.
Steve was Paul’s friend first. They met playing chess online. Paul was a WWII veteran who spent five years in a German P.O.W. camp. He won the Legion of Honour, France’s highest medal. After fighting in the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), Paul left the military because he disagreed with France’s treatment of the Harki.
Paul loved history, music, literature, art, science, food, wine, and women. Especially women.
I will never forget the fuss I caused one of the last days Steve and I stayed at Paul’s home outside of Versailles. Ever the gentleman, Paul wanted to give me a parting gift. A piece of jewelry. I was so touched, knowing the pieces he was offering me belonged to his deceased wife. The piece he insisted I take was a delicate double strand of pearls. Not wanting to offend him, I accepted them and thanked him.
Later that night, I had bouts of guilt. Paul had two daughters and two granddaughters. How would they feel about me taking the pearls? I had to know before I could accept them. Luckily, his daughter Helene and her two daughters were coming the next day for Sunday lunch.
Taking Helene aside, I told her my concerns. Together, she and Paul had a very animated conversation in the solarium. When they emerged, Paul approached me, wagging his finger. “You. You. I am the king of my house. If I give a gift, it is mine to give.”
I nodded, said I was sorry. We left it at that.
On a trip down the Seine, I was proud to be wearing Paul’s pearls.
One of my treasured memories is of a night Steve and I spent with Paul and his daughter in Paris. Steve arranged a special meal for Paul at a restaurant called Willi’s Wine Bar. Paul had told Steve the one thing he missed about America was a good T-bone steak. The manager at Willi’s told Steve the presentation would be a little unusual given Mad Cow Disease concerns, but they could make it happen. Paul threw back his head and laughed when he saw his meal.
Paul had a very special relationship with his oldest granddaughter, Celine. I have kept in touch with her since Paul’s death in 2009. Through social media, she told me that she had been at the Bataclan in Paris only weeks before the attack.
She is safe. Sad. Outraged.
Paris is also personal because I am American. Because there is something about the French that reminds me of us. They did, after all, fight beside us during the American Revolutionary War. They gave us our greatest symbol of freedom: the Statue of Liberty.
We repaid the favor during WWII, when we stormed the beaches of Normandy. The French are still grateful. I know, because Steve and I travelled to Normandy with Paul. Saw the American cemetery there.
And because the last thing Paul said to me as we left for home was, “Thank you to your father for his service and his sacrifices.”
(I am chronicling my friendship with Paul on another blog, Le Colonel and Me)
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Filed under: Travel
Tags: Afghanistan, Algeria, Algerian War of Independence, Australia, Bataclan, Canada, CERN, Denmark, Egypt, Eiffel Tower, France, French perfume., Geneva, Geneve, Hartis, Lebanon, Legion of Honour, Les Deux Magots, Libya, Notre Dame, Paris, Paris Terrorist Attacks, pastis, Russia, Saudi Arabia, St. Genis, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Versailles, Willi's Wine Bar, Yemen