Published on November 24, 2015.
The killing spree in Paris the other week has concentrated our attention, yet again, on the fragility of the human condition. Death, we remember of a sudden, comes like a terrorist in the night.
The murders in the fabled city made a heavy and terrible impression on many people around the world—not because the citizens of Paris are better than those of Beirut or more deserving of our sympathy than the residents of Baghdad, but simply because more people are familiar with the City of Light. France has been the most visited country for years, and Paris—the center of the European world for a good part of three centuries, and an enduring global icon of culture and civilization—remains among the most visited cities in the world.
In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy captures the Russian aristocracy’s obsession with the French, and Paris, even as his sprawling country is sucked into the Napoleonic wars. In the letters Rizal wrote his family during his first European sojourn, his fascination with the world capital was obvious, like a schoolboy crush. In his second European period, he conducted himself like a seasoned lover, his affection for the great city sure and familiar and practical.
In literature as in life, Paris is a symbol—and when the news spread of the attacks the other week, many of us saw that image, personal to many, bathed in unexpected blood. Continue reading