52 Weeks, Week 46
Weekly snapshots of my girls and life in general in 2015
Last Friday, my friend Mia and I were looking forward to going to an Alliance Française-sponsored event in Montclair where former New York Times Paris Bureau Chief Elaine Sciolino was supposed to talk about her new book, The Only Street in Paris. An hour and half before we were to leave for the event, I get a New York Times Breaking News beep on my phone. Of course, we all know what that breaking news is now, but at that point, the newsflash only said that there was an explosion in Paris and that a hostage situation was taking place with 18 people dead.
My daughters were having their French tutoring lessons at this time. I rushed downstairs to share the news with Aurore, the girls’ French teacher. She and I looked at each other in disbelief. An explosion in Stade de France? But there’s a match going on and François Hollande is there. Can’t be. So we both did a bit more Google’ing — she on her phone and me on the desktop and distractedly, she and I gave each other updates until the girls finished their lessons. We said goodbye that night distractedly with heads spinning, not knowing how to make sense of it all.
Then, Mia and I left for the Alliance Française event. I thought how weird it was to be going to a French-related event that’s supposed to be an ode to living in Paris when heinous killings were happening there at that very moment. When we got to Van Vleck Gardens where the event was taking place, things felt a bit eerie. Everyone sort of had that “deer in headlights” expression on their faces and the place was strangely quiet. I saw Elaine Sciolino working with her assistant and wondered how they were going to handle that evening’s discussion.
But Elaine surprised me. She showed unbelievable humanity as she shared with us how she just got a hold of her husband who stayed behind in Paris while she is doing her book tour in the US. She told us that she pretty much discarded her speech for the evening because she felt it was rather inappropriate and irrelevant at the moment. So she just proceeded to talk to us candidly about the attacks, the tense situation in France right now with the rise of the xenophobic National Front Party and the current migrant crisis in Europe. Elaine has extensive background in Middle Eastern politics, which includes covering the rise of the Ayatollah in Iran at the beginning of her career, so it was very informative to hear her take on the various terrorist attacks that have happened the last 25 years or so.
Being in that room with Elaine and a bunch of other people who have French connections one way or the other was therapeutic. There was a lot of outcry, confusion and expressed grief for what was going on in Paris, in France and the world. Frustration filled the room as we all try to deal with our lack of control and vulnerability in the face of terrorism. The discussion was therapeutic because we were all able to share freely what we were feeling that evening; we weren’t home watching CNN show those scary images over and over again and have the media scare us to the point of paralysis.
I also think that Elaine was able to lift some of the dark clouds in the room that night by talking to us why she fell in love with Paris and the street she lives on, Rue des Martyrs. At the end of evening, she showed us a slide presentation that introduced the various French women and men on her street who make the neighborhood alive with their quirkiness and eccentricities. It’s unfathomable that ordinary people, like them or like us, can just be obliterated from the face of this world because of some fanatics’ belief that our lives are simply not worth living.