Paris is one of the most magnificent cities of the world, burgeoning with leisurely life and bold human energy. It is a city to walk in and get lost in, a place to fall in love and find adventure, to be reborn, to stumble onto unanticipated discoveries. Cross any of the thirty-seven bridges across the Seine and you will encounter a region you never expected. The summers are warm and the cafes are plentiful.
Scale Monmartre and you will find the beautiful bleached stone of the Sacre Coeur, with some of France’s most noble figures immortalized in statuary. The city possesses many great libraries and bookstores and has welcomed such rebels as Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, James Joyce, George Orwell, Chester Himes, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Man Ray, Dennis Cooper, Isadora Duncan, and too many others to list. And this doesn’t even begin to account for Paris’s limitless homegrown talent. This great and glorious city will endure for all these reasons and more. It has survived revolutions, invasions, incursions, involutions, and it will endure well beyond this nightmare. Because Paris, no matter how much anybody tries to wound it or debase it, is incapable of being destroyed. It is a grand monument to romance and knowledge and enlightenment and will continue to thrive long after we have all had our giddy spin upon this mortal coil.
What happened tonight was unspeakably terrible. At least 118 innocent people are dead in the Bataclan theater alone, with at least 40 more reported dead in the six other attacks. We don’t yet know who did this. We know that the gunmen were perfunctory and methodical, taking the time to reload their Kalashnikovs for additional rounds. And this tragedy has caused a number of inhumane opportunists to emerge from their dark and unimaginative caves: waving scolding fingers at the paucity of guns, shaming college activists at Yale and Missouri for their lack of perspective, and flaunting their unfathomable xenophobia before they even know the score. In the end, none of their crass sentiments matter. Because you can’t stop Paris any more than you can halt the greatest love affair of your life.
Some people have taken the time to express their fears, to claim that, because of these attacks on a place so magical, there is no space where they can feel safe. But I’m thinking about the brave man who posted Facebook updates from inside the Bataclan. I’m thinking about the taxis who went out of their way to give people free rides home. I’m thinking about the way in which Parisians conjured the hashtag #PorteOuverte to give total strangers somewhere safe to say. There have been endless reports of kindness and generosity from the people of Paris. And that is because you can’t stop Paris. Nobody can. It is too rich in compassion and compatriotism and joy and joie de vivre for any force to stop. It has continued to recirculate its remarkable qualities so well and seemingly without effort that it is nearly impossible for any other city to measure up. Paris is a great example to us all.
So if you’re feeling paralyzed right now, if you’re feeling uncertain what the future is, just take one small look at the remarkable perseverance that Paris has already displayed. You can’t stop Paris. And you sure as hell can’t stop the human spirit.
Do you have personal recollections of Paris? When were you there?
You’ve never spent a minute of your life in Paris, have you?
I have spent at least a minute of my life in Paris, Weirdly Angry Man from Drexel. But that isn’t the point of this essay.