Sunlight and blue skies this early Sunday morning in the Paris apartment. A great morning to head out explore the city. Recent events in the city were still very much on our mind and were hardly dispelled by the sight of soldiers in their camouflage, carrying machine guns, trigger at the ready. But we have seen that before in Paris.
As you stroll the city the idea of terror is always there, embedded in the very stones. Soaring above the Seine, on the Right Bank at Chatelet, is the Tour St Jacques. It is all that remains of a Church, torn down stone by stone, by Parisians, during the Revolution. A tremendous fury must have fuelled the destruction of a church that had been erected as an act of faith by their very ancestors.
And what did I spy at the foot of our very own apartment building: “This was the entrance of the prison of the grand army (1782-1845). At this place 161 detainees, including the Princess de Lamballe, were put to death the 3rd, 4th, and 5th September, 1792”. Of course, I looked the Princess up.
She was Marie Louise Therese de Savoie, the dear friend of Marie Antoinette. She was caught up in the Terror, or, a moment of terror before Robespierre and friends really got to work at Place de la Concorde, with their “humane” death machine, the guillotine. Beware, oh one percent.
The most beautiful room of the Musee Cluny houses the decapitated statues of Kings, removed from the facade of Notre Dame during the Terror. Thought lost, they were rediscovered in a rubble pile and take their place together now, a commentary on power, loss, and the passage of time.
Elsewhere in our neighbourhood, the Marais, the story of terror is present in more subtle ways. Hoping to confuse the mob, aristocrats at the time of the Terror had their coats of arms removed from the streetscape outside their mansions. They present a blank face. Aristocrats? Us?
But, despite this city’s frequent and potent reminders that human history is a story of violence and terror, there are many moments that point the other way.
We live four subway stops from Place de la Republique, but the crowds walking home from the “manif”, today’s unity rally that drew two and a half million Parisians, were huge and continued past our apartment for hours. Tired, happy, proud. They stood up to terror and said no to fear. They asserted their unity and their humanity.
Everyone who watches the news today will know about the huge success of today’s event. But I would like to share a small moment that I witnessed last year, on World Holocaust Day. Just down the street from our apartment was the Memorial de Shoah, which was behind barricades that day. Pedestrians were allowed to go past, and as you did, you could see a shelter and an event taking place. It was a ceremony, and it took us a moment to understand. “They are saying Kaddish.” Prayers for the dead. It went on all day.
Take a look at who provided security for this event, creating a sense of safety for the Jewish relatives of the dead.