‘Paris,’ I said immediately when John asked where I’d like to spend our honeymoon. ‘I’ve always wanted to go to Paris.’
Perhaps my love of things French sprang from school days. I was taught by nuns from the French order, Religieueses de Notre Dame de Missions (Our Lady of the Missions). My teacher in high school was Sr Mary Theophane, whom I adored. An Australian, she was passionate about France and things French.
At fifteen, I read Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. Then I read novels by Simone de Beauvoir. Soon I fell in love with the literature, art, music and history of the country. I longed to see France.
But I was almost seventy before I finally went there.
My response to the brutal attacks on Paris are coloured by memories. I have been afraid in Paris. Here are a couple of paragraphs from my new novel, Elopement: a Memoir. (To be released soon.)
A honeymoon in Paris in springtime must be the ultimate cliché. Indeed, that was among the reasons John and I chose the beautiful French city to complement our sweet courtship and romantic wedding. I looked forward to visiting the Parisian icons I’d read about; John wanted to show me parts of the city he had seen before and loved. We talked about how we would spend our time in romantic restaurants, sitting under coloured awnings on the pavements, watching the world as it went past and enjoying each other’s company far from home.
But, of course, our Paris honeymoon was no cliché.
The calm and beauty of the City of Light held a dark edge during the week we were there. Following a highly-contested presidential election, low-key civil unrest had erupted across France in protest against the party of the new president, Sarkozy. During the selection campaign there had been threats of funding cuts to universities, social security pensions and jobs in the civil service. Unemployment across the country was high. We were told that increasing levels of legal and illegal immigration triggered minor skirmishes as well as a graffiti battle between different racial groups in several suburbs. The government was taking no chances that scuffles across the country would escalate.
The solid presence of the police thwarted many of our plans. Armed and armoured, the police force was highly visible on the streets, looking sinister under the green-budding trees, in the Underground and at tourist sites. Several times a day our movements in and out of the Underground were blocked by soldiers with clearly visible guns. Cavalcades of black cars overflowing with uniformed men materialised wherever we went. Police sirens wailed day and night and physical barricades blocked traffic in the centre of the city and in outer areas.
Sometimes we were afraid. One night we ran for our lives past a threatening mob and gun-wielding police officers in the Place de la Bastille. Organisers aborted sightseeing tours. A bomb threat forced us from the Musée d’Orsay.
Paris was different from the city I’d hoped to see. But we kissed on the Pont Neuf. Strolled beside the Seine. Visited Le Louvre. Posed for a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Since then, I’ve been privileged to return three times. Each subsequent trip to Paris John and I have rented apartment, twice in the same street. Close to the market street, rue Montorgueil, and le Louvre.
John and I plan to go back to Paris soon. It may well be our last time. Who knows?
Terrorists everywhere want the rest of us to be afraid. They want to change how we live. Their aim is to control our society.
We confront them and their plans when we live our lives courageously to the full.