08-01-2015 12:00 Louvre
It started when the woman’s voice came over the PA. The French President, Francois Hollande, declares a national day of mourning and invites everyone to observe a moment of silence at noon to honor the slain. I am standing in line under the glass pyramid with my wife, mother and father for tickets to the Louvre when it begins.
This is not a moment of silence, but a moment of stillness. The room, bustling with activity just seconds before, hasn’t gone silent. It simply stops. Not a single person moves. Not the children with the family standing in front of us. Not the Frenchman a line over who is wiping sweat from his head with a scrap of newspaper. Not the docents who wait at the ticket counters or the clerks at the food stands in the wings. Usually, moments of silence are full of fidgeting, shuffling, adjusting clothing, coughing. Not here. Not now. Here and now, everything is perfectly still. A moment of stillness.
Is the significance of this moment clear to anyone else, I ask myself. This is a moment of utter solidarity. The living as still as the dead. The living as quiet as the silenced. Paris gives its life. I would feel lucky witnessing this moment if the circumstances weren’t so tragic and sad.
Paris is a strange city. It is a city where you walk quickly to get to the cafe, and then eat slowly. People insist on outdoor seating even in the cold. You wake up in the middle of the night and hear the sounds of John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, an aria from Tosca and laughter in the air all at once. Breakfast is taken early, dinner and supper are taken late, and may involve three different restaurants at least. Good cheese is cheap. Wine is the social drink par excellence. Whistling and cigarettes are still things here. Paris often shines sporadically or chaotically, but always brightly. You have to live this to understand the vitality beneath these words.
Today, this vitality is challenged by anger and mourning, knowledge of a grave injustice done in its midst, consciousness of the affront to the French Republic’s foundational values, and also their precariousness in light of current events. This shouldn’t surprise. But in this moment, all is still. In this moment, the City of Lights shines dimly in broad daylight. In the city where life always goes on, life stops.