|Image credit @jean_jullien|
Because there was nothing else to be done, I said to myself: I will read Hemingway and drink wine and think only of Paris. So I sat all afternoon by the window and read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s memoir of his Paris years, and I drank wine and remembered Paris.
Do you remember our first time in Paris? We were staying in that bad hotel and I was irritable because of your disappointment, and the more irritable I was the more disappointed you became. That’s how it always was with us. But the puny moods we brought with us were no match for Paris. We walked along the Seine. We roamed the boulevards. We looked at paintings and old buildings, loafed in cafés. We went in and out of shops along the rue St-Dominique, buying nothing. You ate fruit and I had croissants and dipped them in my coffee. A gypsy girl begged you to let her draw your portrait.
Every day I read Simenon. I bought mouldering paperbacks from the melancholy vendors along the river. At night we ate in cheap restaurants and walked back along the lighted streets and made love in our cheap hotel with the windows open and the lights of Paris gleaming on our skin. The city is older than Christianity, older than morality. It is good sometimes to make love in a place like that, to do it like a pagan, without thought or inhibition or the hurtful bewildering labyrinth of moral meanings. I knew you were thinking of someone else, I understood that, but in Paris it did not matter.
After the September 11 attacks on New York, the French newspaper Le Monde ran an article titled nous sommes tous Américains, we are all Americans.
We found a bar on the rue de la Roquette with cheap beer and loud music and we went there on the first night, and the next night I went alone because it was only midnight and I could not bear to sleep while Paris was awake.
I asked you, Did you catch the news? Did you hear? Did you know that Paris was attacked today? How can anyone hate Paris? How could anybody wish it harm? What is the point of being a man if somewhere in this world a man like me, my flesh and blood, could hate the city of Paris and wish it harm?
One day we hired bicycles and went tearing through the streets while all the solemn trucks and obstinate little cars hurtled by. Drivers swerved, our bicycles clattered over the cobbles. We were fools to brave the busy streets of Paris; we were nearly killed; we were so happy.
St Geneviève, pray for us. For the city you love was under siege today. Teach us to pray for our cities and for peace in our times. Teach us to pray for the best thing that this world can ever give: a carefree street where a mother need not feel afraid. Teach us, if it is possible, to pray also for our enemies, to reach out bloodied hands to seek and find their human faces. Do not forsake us, holy Geneviève, though we are so far God, so far from one another.
All afternoon it rained. I drank wine and read Hemingway and tried to unravel the mystery of Paris and my enemy. I looked a long time at my own face in the mirror but I could not understand.
We are all Parisians.