Saturday, February 20, 2016

Eags Est Un Innocent Á L'Ètranger Avec Un Haussement D'Èpaules

Ernest Hemingway, mentioned in the essay below , once was asked by Dorothy Parker, "What do you mean by 'guts'?" And Hem replied, "It's grace under pressure." Eags writes s tribute to a graceful Paris a few months after the November massacres. If this is (fair & balanced) peripatetic journalism, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
In Paris, The Secular Is The Holy
By Egas (Timothy Egan)

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For most of us, Paris is a stage; we expect a performance in the scenes of daily life, from the exquisite way a tiny child is dressed to the steam rising from soupe à l’oignon to statues of long-dead philosophers lit by the spotlight of a winter sun.

But since the November 13 attacks — 130 people murdered by the most hateful sect on earth — the metaphors of Paris have changed. It’s a victim, we are told, poor, sad Paris. Under an extended state of emergency, “Paris is on wartime footing,” as Foreign Policy magazine put it.

Don’t believe it. Yes, the city is wrapped in a blanket of added security, the seen and the unseen, the armed soldiers who appear suddenly around a street corner, the searches of bags and scanning by metal detectors at even the smallest of museums. Tourism was hit hard, as were retailers. Many small shopkeepers did not survive the weeks when Paris barely stirred

But there is no siege mentality. Long ago, Paris was a walled city built around an island in the Seine. These days, of course, it belongs to the world. A visitor expecting to see a dimmed City of Light finds Parisians now defying its barbarous haters in the best way possible — graceful expressions of how to live well, with a shrug.

A place where food is recognized by the United Nations as an “intangible cultural heritage,” a place that survived the darkest years of Nazi occupation and has felt the trepidation of terrorism for decades, will not stay down for long.

“I see it everywhere I go — the French are not going to give up the things that they love,” Jane D. Hartley, the American ambassador to France, said in an interview. Hartley endured a trial by fire, arriving not long before the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 2015 and then working through the painful days following the slaughter of innocents last November by killers linked to the Islamic State.

Hartley, the latest in a line of American representatives that includes Thomas Jefferson and Pamela Harriman, said she’s been moved by the way the French have refused to cower or withdraw. Cafes are alive, if not packed. The streets are anything but empty.

The mass displays, when people crowded into public spaces to sing “La Marseillaise” and wave the tricolor, have given way to smaller acts of national pride. What stands out are the little things, acts of dignity and beauty — the politics of style.

The attacks were aimed at French values: enlightenment, sexuality, music, the human spirit without censor. And so, as Valentine’s Day came and went, window displays of outré lingerie became a double entendre of sorts — a retail tease, of course, but also a statement that Frenchwomen will not cover up.

In the same vein, sipping wine in cafes along sidewalks — gasp, public displays of alcohol! — have taken on a bit more significance in the weeks after people were gunned down while doing just that. As well, it’s no small joy to sit at an open-air table when that air is 32 degrees and threatening snow.

Over the years, people have always found inspiration in Paris during its bouts of depression and hard times. You think of Julia Child, in a cold postwar apartment, trying to learn how to cook coq au vin. Buying the chicken was the easy part. You think of Josephine Baker, who was at her flamboyant best singing “Paris Toujours,” as a menace grew inside neighboring Germany.

It’s reassuring to see lines outside the Pompidou Center and Musée d’Orsay, waiting to get a look at brush strokes of bodies that Islamic fanatics find so threatening. And it’s comforting to see tables of vin-quaffing diners debating issues large and small at Brasserie Lipp, where Hemingway worked on A Farewell to Arms.

Some of those debates, no doubt, are about the wisdom of a state of emergency that allows the police to bang down doors, disrupt families, close mosques and cast a suspicious eye at anyone who prays to a God different from the one summoned inside the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Because the terror attacks were done in the name of radical Islam, the faith of the majority who practice a peaceful version of that religion is suspect, by some.

It would be more reassuring if the police state campaign had yielded more than a handful of potential terror suspects. For now, it looks like Trumpism with an accent.

For all of that, a potential visitor who may doubt whether this city can still serve up its quintessential pleasures, even in late winter, should think again. Paris, as Audrey Hepburn said, is always a good idea. Even more so when the city is under some duress. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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