August 25th: Olive tree and cedar, Pavillon du Lac café, Buttes Chaumont, looking down towards the lake, yesterday morning, Paris 19th…
Emerging from jet lag, picking up the pulse, listening to people, remembering questions from a US friend…How are we living with terrorist threats, what’s going on with the burkini thing?
August 27th: It’s taken longer than I expected to compose this in my thoughts, partly due to jet lag slomo, but also because of the emotional charge on these questions:
How are we reacting to the terrorist threats here? The consensus is that more incidents are coming and we’re doing our best to prevent what we can and prepare for what we can’t prevent. There are soldiers patrolling the streets. I don’t see them every time I go out, but when I do, I thank them. Never thought I’d see the day. But no, there are no soldiers in my 12 year-old son’s school, and still no metal detectors. He and I took a mass-emergency first aid class at our town hall this spring (see March posts). I hope I’ll never have to use what I learned. If I do, I hope I can stay focused enough to save lives, including ours. One million fewer people have visited France since January than usually come. This summer alone tourist expenditures are a billion euros less than in previous years. On the other hand, 89% of French households maintained their vacation plans and now that August is coming to an end, I feel the life force returning to Paris. There’s a lovely buzz of people in my neighborhood, walking, filling sidewalk cafés. Reality check: France is still 3 times safer than the US!
In fact, I had fears about going home this summer, based on headlines from the past year. Once there, I was fine. Front pages have to be kept in perspective. Which brings me to the second question, “What’s going on with this burkini thing?”
As I tried to explain stateside, the bans were local ordinances in seaside towns still traumatized by July 14th, and would be overturned by the judicial branch in due course. This is exactly what happened yesterday, faster than I expected, when the Conseil d’État (State Council, like an administrative supreme court) ruled the bans illegal. Around the globe, people were absolutely convinced the bans emanated from the French government because they read “French Burkini Ban…” in the media. I was blown away by the intensity of their moral outrage. As someone who goes to the beach in a shirt, hat, and sunglasses, I would never tell anyone else what they can or can’t wear. Have to say I did find burkini timing a bit odd, only weeks after the attack in Nice. Could it really be completely by coincidence, totally without an agenda? I’m struck by the fact that the most virulent statements in the controversy seem to come from people who’ve never lived in France, don’t speak French, have no inkling of cultural history or daily reality here. There’s much more to say, about France as a “secular” country, pros and cons…
For a good summary:
Meanwhile, the words echoing in my head are “context,” “compassion,” and “humility.” Can we try to see that there are always multiple perspectives? Talking about all this has made me humble. OK, so I speak a few languages and have traveled. What about all the countries I’ve never been to, all the languages I do not speak, the cultural histories and daily realities I’ve never experienced? So…I’m going to try to keep this in mind at all times in the onslaught of headlines, sound bites, and social media flare ups… Keep talking to as many real human beings from different areas of the globe as I can, to get their inside take on local and world events, think before I react….
To be continued….