“My beautiful Holidays-in-Paris vacation ended with a terrorist attack.” Not exactly a phrase I’d ever expect to say.
Our last day in Paris was supposed to have been the typical packing/cleaning day that concludes a vacation, ending with one last delicious meal at a to-be-determined restaurant. We awoke to a gloomy day befitting my “I-don’t-want-to-leave” inner pouting, and I spent the morning writing and editing for several of my freelance jobs, occasionally looking up to sigh at how beautiful our view of the city was. I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I have a hard time not staring at the Eiffel Tower. We could see its top from our window, and I spent many a writing break just looking up and watching the clouds pass by its spire, which at night looks like a jeweled crown with its red and yellow lights.
And at night, every hour, on the hour, it twinkles for five minutes. Sigh.
And then, just as many others probably learned of the attack, I opened my Internet browser and saw the news.
I stopped mid-breath. Perhaps I would have done this no matter where in the world I had been, but I was here. Sitting in my cozy apartment in the 16th arrondissement, staring dreamily at Paris’ most prominent landmark, reminiscing about the most beautiful three weeks I had just had, and wondering how I could possibly choose a restaurant for our last meal in the City of Love. And out there, in the fog and the gloom of the streets surrounding me, was a manhunt for murderers.
And I was getting on a high-speed train to go back to Barcelona the next morning.
It has only been three days since the attack, but that day is a blur. We spent it in front of the TV, phones in hand while texting family and friends to reassure them that we were OK, and glued to the BBC while the events unfolded. Shock is the only word to describe how we felt, but this word fails to truly encapsulate the emotions, which were akin to a mixture of sadness, numbness, and fear.
Sadly, as an American, I’m somewhat more “used to” mass shootings than many others in the Western world. We have a lot of them: don’t click on this link unless you really want to depress yourself, but according to some, there were nearly 300 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2014. A Harvard study stated that the U.S. has a mass shooting on average every 64 days. I suppose it depends on what your definition of a “mass shooting” is, which is something I’m not interested in debating: regardless of the definition, and even without the data, we all know that America is sadly a place where shootings occur way too often.
Because of this “experience” with violence, as soon as I heard about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, I knew what was to come. Social media was about to erupt, and in a big way: this massacre was a combination of guns, Islam, police shootings, and freedom of speech. Many of the events which caused so much tension in the U.S. in 2014–police brutality, racial tensions, North Korea’s near-successful prevention of a movie opening (and hence, the loss of the freedom of speech in Hollywood)–seemed to culminate in the Paris shootings. I braced myself for the ensuing madness.
Over the last two days, I’ve watched these debates unfold over social media. It was #JeSuisCharlie, which to me, as a writer, symbolizes a unity of the support of free speech, not a unity of support for the singular messages of satire from the magazine. Then it was, “You’re an idiot if you support Je Suis Charlie because do you know what they’ve said about ENTER GROUP HERE” and then it was #JeSuisAhmed and then it was “This is what religion does” and then it was “No, this is what ISLAM does” and blah, blah, blah the noise continues. It makes me want to become an ostrich and stick my head in the ground. It’s all just noise. Lots and lots of noise. I hate how social media makes us lose sight of the heart of the matter: in this case, that people were slaughtered. Does it matter why? Does it matter who? Or by whom? I still haven’t grieved for the dead: I’m not ready to get in some sort of social debate over the issues surrounding it. But how quickly we move in this age of technology.
I suppose, like everyone else though, I manage to make this issue about myself. Not about my feelings on religion, or guns, or freedom of speech, but about myself, sitting in my little apartment in Paris, blogging. My website had malware for the better part of last year. I felt like a small part of me was missing when I did not have Sedimentality as a creative outlet (thanks, Instagram, for becoming my replacement vice). But that time has been a blessing: it allowed me to take a break from the site that I had given so much for four years, and in this absence, I developed a clear concept of the direction I wanted Sedimentality to take. The main pages, I decided, would be for the food and wine articles that receive so many visits. These would be permanent links. But the blog would become more personal: instead of a few photos, I wanted to give my real opinion about a place. Not just “what to eat” and “look how beautiful it is,” but “here was my true impression,” including the things I didn’t love so much about a place.
For a long time, I was scared to do this. I don’t like negativity. I don’t want to be a critic. I despise wine ratings and star ratings and anything that ranks. I don’t care for blogs that rant, and I certainly don’t want the negativity to seep from a post and into the reader. Perhaps I have yoga to thank for this unending desire to be positive in action and thought. But there is so much I wanted to say that I didn’t, out of fear. I wrote an entire post about what it was really like to be an ex-pat in Argentina . . . and never published it. Out of fear. I wrote another on the more annoying traveler types I’ve met (I thought it was pretty funny, and rather tongue-in-cheek), but it sits in my “Drafts” folder. Out of fear.
Fear of what, I can’t tell you. A nasty comment? Someone disagreeing? I don’t know. Fear of having an opinion? Perhaps. I’ve always been so externally neutral: it’s a little bubble I’ve placed myself in to avoid any conflict. And then, on January 7th, people were massacred for saying what they thought. These journalists and cartoonists had valid reasons to fear the consequences of their publications, and they pursued their endeavor. They believed in the importance of free speech, and they believed in the power of satire. It makes my fear of a nasty comment look as insignificant as a single step on a thousand-mile journey.
But journeys begin with a single step, and so as insignificant as my little blog and its posts may be, I will continue them–in my new format–without any fear of backlash from my readers, who have been so faithful over the last four years. Writing has always been my passion: it’s not something I love to do; it’s something I have to do. I’m not making any grand statements on this little food and wine and travel blog, but it’s important to me, and it’s important to me to take this new approach. I think Goethe said “There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.” Thank you for allowing me to share mine.
My sincerest sympathies to the families of all the victims of the Paris shootings. No one should die because of a cartoon, and the ensuing petty debate over a hashtag takes away from the meaning of your tragic deaths.