Some flowers for Charlie

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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.

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On est tous Charlie!

12 thoughts on “Some flowers for Charlie

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hi John – thanks for commenting. Of course this is just my opinion! We are reeling with events here, but perhaps it has, at the very least, afforded an opportunity to look at the issue of racism in French society.

  1. gardeninacity

    A lovely post. The response of the French people is heartening. You may be interested in what the African American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about living in Paris. He loved Paris and was struck by the lack of racial animosity towards himself as an African American – but noticed a very different attitude towards Black and North Africans. It is always much easier to have social solidarity when you have ethnic and religious homogeneity. In the modern world all countries have to struggle to extend genuine equality to a diversity of peoples. I strongly believe that the racial divide is the single biggest obstacle to social progress here in the US.

  2. Cathy Post author

    Interesting about Coates’ observation – thanks for that. Personally, I would put this down to a long French love affair with jazz! It is a national passion, with frequent, regular slots on the radio station France Musique (mostly for classical music). And, of course, the image of the black American is the very image of jazz. African Americans playing jazz have been welcomed with open arms and adoration in the clubs of Paris for decades.
    Racial divides are threatening but fascinating – they manifest themselves in different ways in each country, but we all suffer from them. I think what France has tried to do is to pretend to the kind of cultural homogeneity you mention. But it’s not the reality.

  3. Anna

    Such sad days both for France and the rest of the world Cathy. It was interesting to read your comments from the point of view of somebody who has chosen to live in France, rather than live there as the result of being born in the country.

  4. Julie

    Well done Cathy for expressing your views on this sad event and for giving us some insights into the French mind. It is hard to see anything positive about such terrible events, but it is my hope that they will lead to a drawing together of the religions with a greater understanding and acceptance of difference.


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