The News From Paris

The news from Paris is terrible, and for me, almost too vivid.  Any mass scene of violence is terrible of course, and all of them have deeply distressed me, whether a market place in Baghdad, a suburb of Beirut, in the streets of Damascus, a train traveling across Spain, a sky scraper in New York. This last of course hit home. I have spent many days in New York and have so many friends there. But this is also true of Paris for me. For most of my life this city has been like a second home. Over many decades I managed to visit once a year or at least every other year. I have written more than one essay or scene that is set there. Though two of my closest friends who lived in the city died this year, many other friends still live there. And even when I am not in the city, Paris remains a lodestar in my imagination, conjuring not just the lost generation of American writers, and blazing images created by artists from Boucher to Manet to Degas and Bonnard, but another way of life, the art of living, tasting, being present. And is this part of the horror and disorientation that is gripping me now?  If, despite my best intentions, I have become in any way inured to mass violence, the great beauty, grace, sensual nuance that Paris conjures serves now to keep me awake. I cannot look away. Since yesterday afternoon, I have been dwelling inwardly with the reality of our violent world. Grief, shock, sorrow for those who are suffering, wishing in vain to turn back the clock, erase events.  Out of the maelstrom of these feelings I find myself beginning to grasp at causes. After all, I devoted almost two decades of my life studying this kind of violence. (see A Chorus of Stones and Transforming Terror). But for now I fear all my research will be in the landscape of my own heart.