Greetings from Paris.
Here is your fucked up Paris update for a fucked up world (pardon my French). My experience of Paris at this point has completely diverged from my social media feed. For those of you not here, here is what I have experienced.
In my social media feed, and reading the news, France is locked down, in a state of emergency, under martial law, and curfew. People are struggling to figure out what to feel and say. And people far from the events are freaking out. “Grief-shaming?” Wow. But that’s how terrorism works: it exists as a media phenomenon. It depends on the press and now social media.
In my privileged bourgeois leftist-intellectual intellectual bubble (related to but different from my social media bubble), Paris is going on about its business.
Friday night my plane took off right after I got a New York Times update that said “PARIS CLOSES BORDERS.” I thought I might be taking two flights. But I landed, and passport-control was predictably insane. The wait was somewhere between 2 and 3 hours–I didn’t exactly keep track. They turned off the electronic passport machines, so all the locals had to go through a person. But the people might as well have been machines. They were stamping passports as fast as they could. The only people who seemed to take any time to get clearance had darker skin than me. Draw your own conclusions.
Saturday WAS weird, and people weren’t out in as much force. My dinner companion that night saw empty busses going by on a Saturday night, which is more or less unheard-of. It was kind of spooky, though our restaurant was full.
Sunday started to be more normal. There was brunch, drinks, dinner at a friend’s place. There was a lot of talk of the attacks but people were out and about. Dinner party conversation quickly turned to other matters.
I awoke yesterday to the sounds of construction (AirBNB classic!). When I went outside the city, or at least the 2nd arrondissement, was in full force. Yesterday evening, the roundtable event went off at the Centre George Pompidou without a hitch, except that now people empty their pockets and go through a metal detector like at the Library of Congress (my hosts tell me that’s new but that the Centre has been increasingly securitized over the last 10 years). It was classic security theatre, like at airports and elsewhere, perhaps designed more to make it look like something is being done than actually doing anything. I expect to be searched tomorrow at the Philharmonie, as well.
After the event, which was still about the subject of a special issue on the politics of sound, we went out to dinner. There has been talk of course about what happened, but everyone is circumspect, trying to figure out what the right thing is to think and do, and concerned about the kinds of violence and police state the French government will now put in place.
They have good reason. I am pretty sure French airstrikes in Syria will kill more civilians than the ISIS attacks, especially if they are as “pitiless” as Hollande says they will be.
Smart things local friends have said (paraphrased from memory):
“Stop and frisk was already a way of life here; we are way ahead of the US on the police state front.”
“Left intellectuals need to organize and get out in the press to get another perspective heard.”
“I don’t like the talk of France’s 9/11. Charlie Hebdo was already ‘France’s 9/11.’ People in other parts of the world deal with this all the time.”
I have no brilliant solutions or insights to offer. Just a request to consider: journalistic and social media accounts of a place are not the place. They are their own place.
That is my report.