It’s been over a week now since the Paris attacks and, while I have nothing profound or especially insightful to say, I wanted to get a few thoughts and observations down.
First of all, for all the folks back home who might be worried about us, Paris is about as far from Bordeaux as New York is from Pittsburgh so I’m not particularly concerned. For some reason, jihadis seem to believe the only Western cities worth their time are New York, Paris, London and, for some strange reason, Madrid. So unless Da’esh decides to disrupt the flow of Pessac-Leognan or starts launching Scuds from Andorra, I don’t intend to get any more worked up about this than necessary to stay sane.
This seems also to be the attitude of most people being interviewed on TV and in the press here. The average mec dans la rue (guy in the street) just wants life to get back to normal. The malls and large department stores have started checking purses and backpacks but, like in the US, I suspect this is just what’s come to be called “security theatre.” “We gotta do something but we don’t really know what so this’ll at least keep down the complaints about us not giving a shit.”
In this spirit and in keeping with worldwide politicians’ practice of covering one’s ass, the National Assembly overwhelmingly voted to extend Hollande’s original week-long state of emergency to 90 days and handed the forces of order more power. These could have been necessary and prudent moves but coupled with news of polls showing increased support for the anti-just-about-anything-else-not-their-vision-of-France-but-particularly-immigrants National Front has me a little worried. But no matter how this shakes out, being a foreigner who doesn’t speak especially good French, and a white one at that, will keep me somewhat insulated from the fallout.
One thing I can say for sure is that the reaction here is definitely more subdued than I’m used to. In fact, Americans are more wigged out about this than the French and the spectacle of Republican Presidential candidates, governors and right-wing so-called Christians whipping the fears of the faithful has been as embarrassing as it is depressing. Fortunately, it hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage that I’m aware of so nobody’s asked me to explain or defend it.
As a further emphasis of contrasting view of patriotism, the French government held an invitation only memorial service for the dead at Les Invalides, a Paris landmark that, among other things, is the site of Napoleon’s tomb. As a way to allow the rest of the country to participate, François Hollande suggested that anyone who wished to could hang the French tri-color from their windows. I’m not sure this exactly fell flat, but a sizable number of families of the survivors decided to boycott the whole thing, feeling this was just a cheap ploy by politicians trying to capitalize on the tragedy. In any case, unlike in the US, most people here, including everyone I talked to, don’t even own a French flag.
With the possible exceptions of eccentricity and tits, ostentatious displays of anything, particularly wrapping oneself in the flag, are pretty much frowned on here. Patriotism in France has somewhat of a checkered past and for at least the past hundred years or so as been seen associated with the extreme right, the most glaring example being the collaborationist Vichy government during the German occupation of WWII. As a result, it’s looked on with some suspicion and as a more or less hollow gesture.
There is as well a tradition here of lampooning this sort of thing. In the 1970’s, coinciding with a spike in nationalism and the rise of Jean-Marie LePen’s National Front, the first and possibly only French comic book superhero appeared- SUPERDUPONT! The original Superdupont (shown here)battled the forces of “Anti-France” and stood for all things Gallic. To save me time and effort in explaining further, here’s a link to his English Wikipedia page. Recently, he’s been updated and his more buff image is at the top of the page. Apparently Superdupont’s been toned down a bit since the first edition ended up, like Bruce’s Springsteen’s “Born In the USA”, being appropriated by the very people he was making fun of.
For me, right now I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else and it’s time to get on with it. Tomorrow I’m going to celebrate Thanksgiving with a group of other Americans and I’m sure Paris will be one of the main topics of discussion. I’m not sure where France is headed from here but I don’t think they’ll start hanging out the flag and/or invade a country that had nothing to do with the Paris attacks.
For my cheap gesture of solidarity, some of my favorite French music.