Sunday, 11 January 2015
Liberté Egalité Fraternité ... Solidarité. Vive la France.
Where does one start. I suddenly felt the need to write about something that happened recently in my beautiful city and then I remembered something... well it just so happens I already have a blog i created sometime ago so i could write about life here in my beautiful city!
Problem is the very thing I started this blog up to write about (life), started to get in the way of writing it and I never really updated it after that. I was dry for topics, or spoiled, however you want to look at it.
Then last week things happened in my beautiful city that shook the world, literally. I'm not big on politics, to be honest I don't really care. No really, they're all liars anyway. As for Religion, well, I have a Christian mother, an atheist dad, my nan was a spiritualist and my grandad used to delight in telling Jehovah's witnesses that he was a Muslim to get them off his doorstep, so I tend to live life as a peaceful agnostic who pops into church only during the festive season or to occasionally volunteer when they do such events as give meals to the homeless. Other than that I have no opinion or particular passion on these things, I'm a live and let live girl about most things in life as long as it is not bothering me in any way.
This week however it did. My beautiful city was attacked, my Paris, my beautiful Paris, they hurt her, they hurt her people and a great cloud of confusion and sadness hung over us all like the band of pollution that swept across Europe last year. The atmosphere was tangible and too awful for words.
So when I learned that Sunday there was going to be a big march in protest then there was no question as to whether or not I'd be there. How dare they.
I was disappointed in the run up to hear the people attacking the world leaders and politicians for their plans of attendance. Lets face it there's already a divide between terrorists and the rest of the sane world, are we really going to start adding our own petty political divides in here also? So will you stop. Lets face it people in a political position cannot win, whatever you do someone will always have an opinion (and let's face it the march was for the right for us to have this opinion without having to fear losing our life over it). But for me I say respect to those leaders. They made themselves sitting targets that day and that was BRAVE however you want to look at it, whatever you may think of them these men and women have partners and families who see them as human beings when the rest of the world doesn't and did so long before we saw them as political figures, they are people too and I'm certain they didn't want to die that day anymore than anyone else there did, but they made themselves vulnerable. They showed no fear. So bravo to them. It's as simple as that.
Second, the people who would refer to anyone joining in this movement as sheep (yes you people with your "Je ne suis pas Charlie, Je suis moi") yes sure, let's make this all about you shall we? Okay maybe many were jumping on a wagon, even me, this isn't exactly a new problem, you're right, but ignorance is bliss until it happens on your doorstep. Better late than never. After all, one little sheep on its own isn't going to do much damage to the land and there's nothing threatening about a little lonesome sheep. But a whole flock of sheep? Man that can be terrifying and they are going to level your nice green field to bare earth pretty damned fast. So Baaaaaa Ram to Ewe, I'm joining the flock. Safety in numbers.
I grew up in a major epicenter for the IRA back when they were the big problem, I was in London for the weekend a mere 2 days after the tube bombings, I still remember the smell of a charred Kings Cross station, the empty tube carriages because people were too fearful to ride, the nervous glances towards anyone who was carrying a rucksack. I also lived in Central London during the riots so have already experienced being locked in Starbucks at Green Park until it was safe to exit (but not before they'd smashed in the door) and 6pm curfews in your neighbourhood with the sound of explosions and sirens singing you to disturbed sleep. I'm no stranger to events of widespread human emotion (actually maybe I'm just jinxed?!) but this was something else entirely.
I never knew so much evil could lead to so much good.
It was a day of mixed emotions, but not one of those was sadness. There was pride, France know they are showing the rest of the world how its done and if there's one thing French people are, it's proud (trust me I know I'm dating one). They were happy, this was something special, to be rejoiced and they knew it, we weren't there to fight we were there to show we were united and when you see how many people are on your side, well damn that makes you feel good. There was also a distinct lack of fear, I saw so many warnings the day before and sure if this had been a movie then the terrorists could have had a field day here, we were all trapped in one place, it was a setup for carnage. But we were not afraid of this, Terrorists are cowards, people are not. Fear does not stop death it stops life.
March on, march on....
It was madness, I can't remember the last time i saw that many people in one place, possibly never if I am honest. But it wasn't too much, it wasn't difficult and I can honestly say I have never felt so safe.
Helpfully RATP laid on all transport free that day, so I took the initiative to leave early. The march was due to start around 15h and I arrived in Paris at 12h, at this point there wasn't too many people around.
There was an air of apprehension, people were very quiet filtering off the metro at Republique, but nonetheless everyone was smiling, it was like a sunday outing almost. The young, the old, families.... Everyone.
People ventured into nearby packed out cafes for coffee as despite the brilliant winter sunshine there was little warmth even with the crowds and people took time to look at all the memorials which have accumulated over this past few days.
More and more people slowly seemed to be around me so i held my place behind the statue and for a couple of hours just enjoyed the atmosphere. Some people had climbed up onto the memorial and to be honest were doing a great job in leading chants of independence, humour, freedom and occasionally throwing in the national anthem. Slowly the gaps filled around until it just a sea of people but it wasn't until I got home and saw the photo of the Place did I get an idea of just how many! I had no idea!!! At no point was there the sensation you were that rammed in! Noone was pushing or shoving, sometimes you advanced a little sometimes you didn't. Mostly people walked a few meters then we stopped, people applauded, cracked jokes, encouraged a few chants or songs but you never felt trapped so I was probably just as overwhelmed as the rest of the world to see the photos of the turnout after. Incredible.
For me there were certain things which majorly stuck out that day;
1. The acceptance that Muslims and Islam are not the problem. I have a feeling it was almost national hug a muslim day, they were almost celebrity guests where i was standing. After the terrorist attacks on Australia of recent weeks I was very touched by the story of #illridewithyou. I had no idea that when my own country would be in the same boat some weeks later their reaction would show my heart one better than that. There's no need for an I'll ride with you here because they have gone; we are all the same. They've not even particularly extended a 'don't worry' out to the Muslims because it has gone without saying, it is not their fault!
2. In this country the Arabs, Africans, Moroccans and the 'Gitan' are not terribly well tolerated. I hear it ALL the time, man are these guys tarred with a brush. But today up on the statue chanting "Je suis Charlie, tu est Charlie, nous sommes Charlie" (I am Charlie, you are Charlie, we are Charlie) was a person representing every single one of these cultures, waving their flags from Morocco to Senegal next to the French flags and joking and laughing and encouraging everyone to sing the national anthem. Their skin in every shade, their clothing, their flags, all different and yet being supportive TOGETHER.
3. Two chants will stay with me
"Vive le press"
"Merci la police"
The poignancy with the first chant is that we are a mere drive from the place of Princess Diana's death.
As for people's love of the police force here, well it's about on a par with England....normally. Here we are celebrating them both in the same breath.
My how the winds have changed, literally overnight, even if just for one afternoon.
Sadly I didn't see too much of our leaders (nothing at all in fact) from where I was standing, i wound up being interviewed by ABC news desperately looking for English speakers they could interview (ahhh my 15 minutes!). i helped teach a cameraman from the BBC the fastest way to pick your way through a crowd (basically by not being so British about it) who then thanked me as apparently it was the most ground he'd covered in an hour before we went our separate ways. Of course naturally despite all of the thousands of people there i still managed to bump into one of my Parisien friends (ha Hey Steph, big Republican march, small world...) but still it took 2 hours to shuffle down a section of the Blvd de la Republique.
The march was due to end at Nation, but I knew in my head getting to Place de Nation and negotiating transport with that many people would be hell at the end of it all, the march had actually started to split off down many of Paris' side streets so like many thousands of others I detoured. I finally managed to end up around the Canal St Martin heading in the direction of my train station, it was now dark and here the party was in full swing with people celebrating in the streets, picnicking, bars and cafes were packed out into the street. I was pretty cold (despite the sunshine a spectacular cloud burst on the crowd very early in the afternoon which prompted the new chant "France sous la pluie/France under the rain" and much laughter from the crowd) and I was thinking of getting home as I still had to be up in the morning to be a sensible teacher, when I realized this day was never going to happen again (one hopes I guess). So I stopped and sat on a wall by the canal and observed the crowd. It was now night but people were holding their banners, candles, lighters, chanting, singing, talking, laughing, dancing.... When an Arab guy next to me offered me a beer, he was sat with his Jewish friend complete in his attire and I thought, why not. So I had a beer with them and we discussed what a great day it was for this country, as simple as that. Somewhere someone broke into the national anthem and the whole street joined in to end with cheering and applause, 3 Muslim girls in traditional dress were dancing with an African man who was adorned in his.
I was not dreaming and I love that.