07/01

Rule #1 of blogging: keep the blog updated regularly.

I’ve been slacking lately and now have a three-week backlog of Parisian adventures (and misbehaviour) to update people with.

Last time I wrote, I’d just finished my first day of work. Then, I had no idea that the beginning of this new chapter of the Year Abroad story would be marred by a very grave turn of events.

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to know that on my third day of living in Paris, the city was attacked in what Le Monde dubbed “Le September 11 Français”. But, as only a handful of you who might possibly read this post are living in Paris, or were on January 7th, I thought it was important to address.

I rarely brave political expression on social media, but the attacks on Charlie Hebdo have justifiably incensed me as I am learning and understanding the power of the written word. Events of this magnitude that are reported on the news, most recently in Sydney, can feel distant and out of touch: it’s all too easy to brush off with a typically English, “It’s very sad.” It is only when it comes close to home that we sit up and take notice, and respond more actively.

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We spent a couple of days terrified to leave our flat after work, only leaving for the essentials, and being delayed on every train and metro journey because of suspect packages and closed lines. The city was on lockdown, as diners were locked into restaurants by armed police, sirens screamed as convoys of police jumped one red light after another, and the streets were empty. The grey January weather did little to ease the chilly, eerie ambience. Then, the weekend of the 10th and 11th of January, something clicked, and the city came back to life.

I’d be lying if I said we were confident and felt truly safe at the Je Suis Charlie March. Lucie and I both ran through worst-case scenarios in our heads as we walked along the canal to Le Marais, where the march started. We joined it halfway down Boulevard Beaumarchais – in happier times, one of my favourite shopping streets, with Leica HQ and ancient camera shops on either side – and within five, ten minutes all our concerns had dissipated.

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Protest is ingrained in French culture: and boy, do they do it well. The march was peaceful and calm, with a lot of clapping and powerful renditions of La Marseillaise. People moved slowly and respectfully, and if you stopped to snap a shot or two, there were no grumbles or moans as there would have been in a crowd of Englishmen and women. Our destination was the Place de la Bastille, and when we got there an enormous crowd was swarming the monument in the centre of the large square.

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Once one person had clambered over the railings to stand on the base of the monument (a good ten, twelve feet high, no easy feat) where they unfurled banners, tricolores and, newspaper cuttings. The crowd continued to grow, and, after clinging to the railings for some time to get a better vantage point of the people who were still trailing down Beaumarchais as far as the eye could see, Lucie and I called it a day, desperately in need of a cup of tea.

While the Charlie Hebdo attack is, truly, dreadfully sad, the reactionary movement has been exhilarating. I have seen Paris bounce back from an extraordinary and horrible event, and I have seen Parisians from all walks of life, all religions, and foreigners included, come together for love and support, not only for freedom of expression and all it stands for, but for the city itself. It has been a pretty impressive time to move to a new city.

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Chanson du jour: Work Song – Hozier

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