Paris is burning.
I wish that were some sort of metaphor. But it was literally true on Friday evening, New Jersey time.
As I boarded yet another quotidian Newark-to-San Francisco flight, the news was scrolling madly. Mass shooting at a restaurant in the 11th, 18 dead. More shooting at a concert, maybe hostages. The Eagles of Death Metal were playing in Paris and someone was shooting up their show! I thought of Dimebag Darrell and my brother and father back in Columbus, Ohio. I thought about Allah crying above, endlessly lamenting his inability to get people to understand his relatively straightforward and peaceful words. I thought of my friends Kim and Saskia, both in Paris and safe. For once, I thanked Facebook.
I’m scheduled to go to Paris in 10 days. I’m going. This scares me, but I won’t let it deter me from spending time in my favorite place. I don’t propose that terror wins or loses based on this infinitely minor decision, that this amorphous endless war hinges upon whether or not I show up at Gare du Nord on November 26.
On my flight from Newark (no wifi available, blessing or a curse?), I thought about how this flow of terroristic acts compares to WWI or WWII or the American Revolution or any other time where people couldn’t walk down the street without thinking twice about whether that’s a good idea (that time is now, in many places). You can’t safely leave your home, for anything. It’s like living in The Walking Dead, which always feels like an oddly real possibility to me. If we can’t wander aimlessly about the Left Bank, we can’t live. That sounded pretty elitist, but you know what I mean.
I think about Paris a lot. I went there for the first time in 2005. On that visit, I took in a concert in Saint-Sulpice, a small ancient church, the tinny whirs of the concerto echoing from stone to stone. It all made perfect sense. I rode long and hard on the clichés of Shakespeare & Co. and Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore and all the other semi-touristy shit you’re supposed to do if you’re a semi-literary American poseur walking the streets of Paris. I could see Brasserie Lipp from the window of my apartment on St-Germain. I was young, and I had the audacity to believe I could be the next Hemingway, that the ghost of Sartre was there with me in the apartment I rented without the help of a smartphone or Airbnb.
We’ve all lost our footing a little bit. I think about practical and selfish things: Will something happen in London before I fly there? Will I still be able to get into Paris? Will the security lines at the train stations be insane? Will places I want to visit be open?
And I think about things I never thought I would have to think about: If I see I guy in a hood with an AK-47 at Place Vendôme, will I run for my life? Will I toss my wife safely into the alley and then save the world with an American football tackle, performed ever so gently as not to detonate an explosive vest? If I have to have these thoughts, is it still a good idea to go to Paris for Thanksgiving, a decidedly American holiday? Shouldn’t I be in Enon or Topeka or Detroit or anywhere?
Everyone calls what happened in Paris, and New York, and Kenya, and Beirut, and Madrid, and Washington, D.C., and (insert many other places) terrorism. It is precisely that because we now all believe that this can and will happen anywhere. Does practicing yoga now seem silly, or is it the most important thing? In this cowardly new world, how should we behave and make everyday decisions?
I don’t know. But for those who still believe in the symbolism of small acts of man: Paris, I’ll see you soon.