I had a light-hearted post prepared for my return, but the events of Friday evening in Paris require some comment, even though I have absolutely nothing to add to what you will all have learned from news reports and television and web commentary.
Friday evening, after a day spent packing and cleaning the apartment, Susie and I went to dinner at Le Petit Pontoise, a local restaurant that we have long enjoyed. [I had ravioles dauphinés and joues de porc -- a red wine stew of pig cheeks and vegetables]. At about nine-thirty we walked home and went to bed. A bit after midnight, the phone rang. Our Paris phone has a jaunty ring tone quite different from the harsh sound I knew as a boy. The first time I heard it, I had no idea where the sound was coming from. When I picked up the phone and heard the voice of my son, Tobias, saying "Dad?" I had a terrible fear that something awful had happened in America. Why else would he be calling in the middle of the night? But his first words were, "Are you all right?" It was then that I learned what had happened. While we talked, I surfed the web for news and he responded to a text message from his brother, Patrick.
Susie and I spent much of Saturday watching CNN as the terrible story unfolded. Many people, including some of you, very kindly sent e-mail messages of concern, and I responded to them all, assuring people that we were well.
Even though the attacks took place only a mile or two from our apartment, we were as distant from them as we would have been had we already been back in Chapel Hill. All of the incidents occurred on the Right Bank, north of the Seine. My turf is the Left Bank, and save when I circumnavigate the 4th arrondissement during my morning walk, I rarely venture north of the river. I had never heard of the Bataclan theater or the Cambodian restaurant that came under attack.
The next morning, the Saturday Place Maubert food market, the largest of the week, was cancelled, an eerie sight since all the stanchions and awnings had been put up on Friday before the attacks occurred. Shakespeare and Co., the famous English language bookstore opposite Notre Dame, was closed "until the situation is clarified" but people were in the streets. Perhaps the only visible response to the attacks was an increased police presence.
What do I think of the events? I will leave geo-political analysis to those who know more about the Middle East and Islam. My overwhelming feeling is one of world-weary sadness. Human beings are the only mammals who regularly kill large numbers of their own species, not for food or sex or territory, but simply out of anger or despair or boredom or religious ecstasy. The communicants of the great Abrahamic religions have been slaughtering people for centuries -- indeed, for millennia -- and when their enthusiasm for blood wanes, secular mass murderers step forward to fill the void. Perhaps it is because I will soon be eighty-two, but I am weighed down by the fragility and brevity of our insignificant moment of life. So many of our greatest works of art are either explorations of this blood lust or celebrations of it. "Make love, not war," we said in the Sixties.