I was not on the streets marching today, either in Paris or Épinal (my closest town). Only because I don’t like large crowds. But my heart was with the others, nevertheless. In the afternoon the sun came out for the first time during this terrible week and I went out into the garden. It was like a blessing, and I’m sure the millions in the streets of France felt it too.
France is not an easy place for the ‘outsider’. Moslems and others – particularly the Roma – are frequently marginalised and often ignored. It sometimes seems that French democracy is a thing reserved for those who are French, but only as long as their faces are white.
We have no vote here. You have to be French-born or naturalised to vote in France. But we pay our taxes. This has always seemed strange to me. This is, after all, the country that inspired the American Revolution with its cry of ‘no taxation without representation’. And it can make you feel as if your voice is of no importance – that one is merely ‘permitted’ to live here.
I remember travelling over country roads to Dijon a couple of summers ago with a friend and saying how lovely it was to suddenly see so many sheep. I come from Scotland, where you have to dodge them on the road in spring; young lambs always seem to me to express joie de vivre more than any other living creature – and they make me feel at home. ‘They didn’t used to be here’, she told me, with a bit of a sneer in her voice. ‘It’s only because there are so many Moslems now – it’s a huge market.’ A shiver ran down my spine.
Backlash against ‘the other’ this week has been a little frightening for those living in a region where a sizeable proportion of the population votes Front National. Le Pen’s statement yesterday did nothing to make one feel any more comfortable: ‘Désolé, mais je suis pas Charlie’.
But today, as I say, the sun came out in affirmation of the values of this secular republic. Not just liberty, equality and fraternity, but an articulate and loving rejection of hatred and intolerance. As the marchers had it: ‘I am a Jew; I am a policeman; I am Charlie!’ And a heart-warming: ‘They missed!’ Moslems, Jews, atheists, agnostics, Christians – all singing the Marseillaise. Tonight I feel proud of, and inspired by, my adopted country. Perhaps something powerfully good can come from this tragedy?
I was not on the streets today, but my heart was. Here is my bunch of January flowers for those who lost their lives this week.