We love Paris, ma copine and I, for all the usual reasons. The great monuments, the museums including the famous and the smaller specialized ones, the good tastes in even modest bistros, the tradition of tradition-breaking in all the arts, the urban gaze and bustle and sounds of Paris — ambulance sirens, the tempos and melodies of conversation among the French and the other musics of its immigrant communities, the buzz and whiz of traffic, laughter, and all the chansons, bawdy or ironic or both, that echo in our memories.
But beyond, or perhaps I should say encompassing, all this is the mass of urban energy, denser here than in any other city I know. In no other city have there been as many great urban mass movements that have shaken the continent and even the world, beginning with the great Révolution Française of 1789, then a smaller revolt in 1830, and much larger and more consequential ones in 1848, 1871, and 1968 — this last still in the memories of many of us and of all the political leaders of Europe. The fusion of Liberté, égalité, fraternité into a single goal, and the idea of revolution as the vocation of a full-time "revolutionary" or révolutionnaire were both invented in France, and more especially in Paris. The vibrations from Paris' vast, popular upheavals would eventually shake the French empire itself to pieces in the 1960s, as Africans and Asians took the words of the Declaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen and other proclamations as meant for them. And the vibrations are still being felt, in Paris itself and as far away as Tahrir Square in Cairo or Santiago Chile, or anywhere else that great numbers of people stir themselves to demand and create political change.
Red Room's invitation to write about la ville lumière comes on the eve of our return there — hélas, for but a few days. I have always been fascinated by the lives of great cities, and the book I am working on now will focus on Paris during one of its greatest crises : the 1870 siege and the subsequent 1871 declaration of the Commune, two intense months (18 March to 29 May) when the population was abandoned by its authorities and the people had not only to improvise how to run a great city, but also to defend it from assaults by the professional army of the government in Versailles. It was a wild, multidirectional experiment in self-government, finally crushed by the massacre of tens of thousands of Parisians, street by street, defending their homes and their barricades. But it has lived as an example and lesson closely studied.
And that is the main reason for our next visit, tomorrow: I want to see and feel the places (streets, corners, buildings) where so much occurred. The other reason is my wife's birthday November 2; friends living in Paris have helped us pick out a fine little restaurant for our celebration— there are so many in Paris! We fly tomorrow from Málaga — a short drive from our home in Andalucía, and then only a couple of hours by plane to Paris. We're working to improve our French, because we will want to return there more often.
Causes Geoffrey Fox Supports
Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières