It’s been requested that I write up a post regarding the late events in Paris and the general atmosphere here since the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. In a lot of ways I don’t really feel qualified to talk about this subject..I didn’t even know the magazine existed until January 7. But, since I am teaching here and have been wandering around a number of the neighborhoods, I CAN easily talk about what things have been like in Paris, and the answer is (contradictorily Parisian): different and the same.
To start with, many of us had no idea what happened on the 7th until the excitement was well over. One of the English profs discovered it as she headed home and couldn’t get to her apartment due to police. Another found out when she turned on the television later that evening. As for me (and I think a lot of the expats here had similar experiences) I had my mom call me from the States to tell me what was going on. (It feels decidedly strange to have someone from abroad tell you what is going on in your city, by the way…you feel very foolish and oblivious.) Over the next few days tensions mounted. I stood up with my class and all of the lycée and the country on Thursday for a minute of silence. I talked to the students who wanted to talk about it and created fun, diverting activities for the classes that didn’t. I think that all of us were playing things by ear. The big shift, which I think remains for a lot of us, was the heightened awareness to sirens—which have been blaring a lot more recently—and the impulse to regularly check our phones for updates from Le Monde. One of my classes was completely derailed by a kid checking his on Friday and our discovering that the brother suspects had been cornered in the North. People were relieved after that, but still jumpy…I’ve never seen the metro so uncrowded at rush hour as I did that week.
In the last week, the attack has still weighed heavily on most of us. Many participated in the enormous march on from Nation on Sunday. We talk about it in class a lot. The teacher’s lounge and cafeteria room are constantly filled with passionate disagreements between professors regarding their predicted outcomes of this attack and what the country should do. It’s raised a lot of interesting and important questions regarding expression, race, and integration for the French and EVERYONE has an opinion. Everyone also apparently wants a copy of the new magazine…the Presses are ALWAYS sold out.
As for me, I still feel lucky to be here. My initial jumpiness—fully realized on Friday when I discovered what was happening at Nation—has started to quiet down, although I move quickly on all of my commutes now and check the news at least every hour. I’ve tried to keep classes as normal and engaging as possible. Some students want to talk about the attack, and we’ve had interesting and passionate debates about integration and freedom of speech—I used this as an opportunity to introduce the to Salman Rushdie, whose response to the attack always evokes interesting responses from the kids. Several students who’ve never spoken up were my most passionate debaters (*note to self…more debates in the future). I try to play devil’s advocate and not weigh too heavily into things…but f there’s any part that saddens me, it’s the reports from those who are (or appear to be) Muslim saying that they’ve experienced recent discrimination from other French. One girl told me that several of the women in her family refuse to go out because were heckled and are afraid of being attacked. And perhaps even more disturbing, most of the other students are oblivious to their classmates’ problems.
Otherwise, I try to keep experiencing this wonderful city, which manages, even in the face of tragedy, to constantly wow me. I’ve been straying from the Marais some, which has been significantly quieter of late, and wandering to new neighborhoods. I cannot wait to tell you about them. If you are interested in reading more about the attack and more brilliant people’s opinions on it, there are loads of great articles online…all you have to do is google for a veritable wealth of opinions.