My neighbour called to me from her window: “Put on your coat, we are going to Flore.” She spoke in reference to our neighbourhood cafe. “Now?” I asked. In disbelief as our city had been rocked by bombings and shootings merely two days before. “Of course.” She declared. “We will protest this violence by celebrating life.”
Her words most adequately sum up for me the mood I had been sensing from Paris and from my Parisian friends: the radical act of Enjoying Beauty in the face of oppression.
Of course Parisians are mourning in the traditional ways as well: candle-lit vigils, concerts, flowers left on central monuments, etc. These acts are real, and they are felt deeply. But the new form of grieving comes with an awareness of what Paris means in the global context… not just as a cultural destination, but as a symbol of beauty and hope for all of humanity. Parisians are re-awakened to the ideal that they represent Art, Music, Liturature, Fashion, Philosophy, Cuisine… and even the very enjoyment of life. These pursuits have a new urgency. Sitting in a cafe with a bottle of wine and laughter is no longer a passive act, it is an active agent of peace. I am not sure if I can translate to you the depth or urgency with which this is felt.
Parisians are filling the streets, filling cafes, filling shops. There are more smiles than I have ever seen here before, and a general sense of kindness and goodwill that is premature for Christmas. I am sure I overstate my observations, but I tell you these things so you can have an image of what I am experiencing… a Paris fuelled by the practical necessity of Peace. I had never before considered Beauty to be the opposite of Violence, but in Paris it is now (or always has been) the singular obsession. What the rest of the world once thought mere vanity has turned out to be a sacred, protective calling.
Brad Leach, Culture Keeper’s Autumn intern made this video showcasing the current mood in Paris. I hope that it gives you a taste of what I am describing.
When you think of Paris, think also of ways in which you too can live out peace and be an agent of beauty. When we celebrate the arts, sciences, and humanities, we stand in direct defiance to those who seek violence, oppression, and injustice. Perhaps at first glance this all seems trivial, but I am ever more convinced that it is a sacred response.
Jonathan Randall Grant // Culture Keeper