France has declared its first national emergency since I was there in 2005. No, you cynical being, I had nothing to do with it.
But even those who know me best, or think they do, likely aren’t aware that back then, during my first solo trip overseas, I was in fact on a recon mission. For what?
French was my first love, courtesy of a mother who taught me simple French from a young age, played French radio at home, watched French movies and even passed on her old French school songbooks and textbooks to me from her time living in Montréal.
And so eventually I dreamed of moving to France and living there for a time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that France is not the paradise of “Liberté, fraternité, égalité” it claims to be (aspires to be might be a more realistic view, but hey, if you’re gonna sing an anthem calling all those Frenchmen to arms so that impure, invading non-French blood can water your land, let’s keep the motto as positive as we can, eh?) The segregation of immigrants and low-income Parisiens to the suburbs was evident before the riots began, problems endemic for decades (or longer?) seemed clear as day to me, just a naive Canadian girl off to see the world. When I visited Madrid and walked through Atocha Station, still under reconstruction from its 2004 bombing, flowers still laying wreathed in places, the recon mission was already over. Europe would not fulfill my childhood dream of living in another country. The evidence was too stark and blatant, burned out buses passing before my face as I rode the train out of Paris and broken subway systems with invisible target symbols all over them. It was not easy to let this dream die, but it did.
My study of French died with the dream. Life happened. And here, ten years later, I find myself watching the news of one secretly xenophobic country from another. Before I read the article I admit I thought to myself, “Not moving there was a good choice, self.” And as I read the article I looked at the pictures and thought “Le Carillon looks an awful lot like the bar I ate and drank at while I stayed near Métro République, alongside the Canal Saint-Martin.” And so I checked the map, and checked again. And so it was. How nice it was to sit there sipping coffee, people-watching from the little tables on the street, to stare out at the night while nursing a drink. Damn, that was close enough.
Back then however, there was discussion about immigration and racism and integration. Now? It’s not really about a specific race is it? Or is it?
Cooler heads never prevail, and so next year I’ll be moving back to a place with fewer heads than here. The odds are better.