One Sunday in January
It was a first. To enter the area around Place de la République Sunday morning, there was tight security with a bevy of police checking every bag, scanning our bodies and asking us to open our coats. Companion Patty Sadauskas commented that she wished she’d thought to take a photo of me opening my coat wide and being felt around my waist by the not-so-bad-looking young police officer before being allowed past the barricades. It was 10:30 a.m. in advance of the tree-planting ceremony and commemoration of the lives during 2015 in the two terrorist attacks that rocked the city of Paris as well as the whole world.
There was a second security check to get closer to the center of the Place where the bronze statue of Marianne is situated. The Place was very well organized for the event. On one side was a large screen projecting the events taking place on the other side. On the other side which was obscured by the statue was a tented stage and rows of white chairs that only a select few were allowed to access — the government officials, families of the victims, the entertainers, security and press. The press were everywhere, naturally.
We positioned ourselves dead center directly in front of the large screen and behind a woman who had draped herself in a sheet on which she had written all the names of the victims. The press loved her, being a perfect photo op, and so we ended up in the background on camera about a half-dozen times. Reporters from France 24, the national news channel, came over to interview us, but I blew it when I confessed that we lived here and would also be reporting on the story. No problem — we preferred observing rather than being observed.
The crowds started to fill in as we waited for the ceremonies to begin, but with the tight security, the Place didn’t fill up as much as it does traditionally. The square was originally named Place du Château d’Eau, “named after a huge fountain designed by Pierre-Simon Girard and built on the site in 1811.” (Wikipedia.org) It was later reshaped as part of Baron Haussmann’s renovation of the city and then again within the last few years under the auspices of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë. It is the site for just about every meaningful public event and exactly one year ago, in a public showing following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it accommodated a record-breaking turn-out of about 1.6 million people, making it the largest demonstration in the modern French history.
The ceremonies began promptly at 11 a.m. We could see them on the big screen perfectly and hear them with its high quality sound system. President François Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo presided over the event. A plaque at the foot of a 10 meter-high oak tree was unveiled.
Jean-Philippe Smet, a.k.a. Johnny Hallyday, a.k.a. “the French Elvis,” sang a song he wrote “about the remarkable outpouring of solidarity on French streets a year ago, called ‘Un dimanche de janvier’ (One Sunday in January).” (quote from France24.com):
“Des millions de regards
Et de larmes à peine essuyées
Des millions de pas sur les boulevards
Un dimanche de janvier
J’avais ta main petite
Dans la mienne recroquevillée
Nos cœurs battaient
De plus de en plus vite
Ce dimanche de janvier
Là, nous avions marché en silence
Au milieu de la foule immense
Et le vent à notre place
Chantait sans fin sur la place
Pour apaiser la peine
De tout un pays soulevé
Nous étions venus
Sans peur et sans haine
Ce dimanche de janvier”
You can see and hear it performed on Youtube.
It was followed by songs performed by the French Army Choir and a reading by two young people of a poem by 19th-century French poet and author Victor Hugo. There was the customary singing of the national anthem, La Marseillaise, and a minute of silence before the officials disbanded and security allowed the crowds to descend on the place.
All in all it was a mere 30 minutes, but a very emotionally moving 30 minutes. Like many others around me, I teared up thinking of the tragedy of the events and what it means to all of us and our future. We are sure to see increased security measures, which means a loss of certain freedoms. We are sure to see an increase in paranoia of those around us, which means an increase in prejudice. We are sure to see an increase in firearms and weaponry in an effort to ‘protect ourselves,’ which means an even greater danger of violence.
In response to a recent Nouvellettre® titled “Forewarned is Better than Forearmed,” we received a few, but not many, proponents of the right to bear arms. The other point of view is always fascinating, regardless of the topic, and in particular this one. Those who are fully in favor — “I am a second amendment supporter, gun owner, and US Army veteran (where I learned to shoot, and like most women, am a better shot than most men)” also admit, “I’m not sure what the most effective solution to senseless gun violence is…” and fully believe, “The right to keep and bear arms, in order to defend against criminality, or tyranny, is not the grant of a privilege from a government, but is an inherent right of an individual.”
Sorry folks, but it’s a ‘numbers game’ that is undeniable. The more guns in circulation, the more gun violence…and even if you think they are in the hands of responsible adults, think again. Responsible adults screw up, too, and accidents happen — that wouldn’t have happened if the guns weren’t there.
According to The Brady Campaign, every single day, in the U.S. alone, 48 children between 0 and 19 years old are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. Five are murdered, two commit suicide, 31 are shot in an assault, one survives a suicide attempt and eight are shot ‘unintentionally.’
You can write me all you want and express your views on the second amendment, which are always appreciated, but you will never convince me otherwise. And if you’re open-minded to learning more, read this surprising comparison of crime in the U.S. with crime in France.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. I am co-sponsoring another “American Expat Seminar in Paris” with special guests Brian Dunhill & Carl Mir January 28th. Topics include your financial future abroad and updates to filing your US taxes while abroad. Details are available on our Conferences and Workshops page.