My last day of high school involved an exam. The subject was geography. My teacher, Winifred Prestwich, walked down the aisle in the prayer hall where desks had been placed, patted my shoulder, and wished me luck. She called me by my sister’s name, Mary. It didn’t matter. I was used to it. The fact that my sister graduated years prior made no difference. Miss Prestwich liked her enormously, so in calling me by her name, it felt like a token of affection.
I supposed I trembled a little as I read the exam questions. My school, Havergal College for Young Ladies, was famous for its tough standards. The packet was a fairly thick one. As I looked through it, I found a blank street map of Paris. We were to name as many streets and landmarks as possible. Each accurate answer yielded a point, and the map was worth fifty percent of the grade. It was never mentioned as a possibility in class. We had spent a few weeks learning about the city planning, but we expected an essay question on that topic. I filled in the map first. By the time I finished, I had to race through the other questions. When I heard the words, “Pens down,” my high school years came to a close. After spending countless hours complaining about the uselessness of what we were learning, and pontificating to all in sundry about what I would have rather been studying, I now had to concede that Miss Prestwich had given us a very practical application of knowledge. I feel at home in Paris. I would live there in a heartbeat if I could. I can always find my way around.
When I heard of the recent attacks, like so many others, I felt a great kinship with the people who live in my favorite city. It is hard to quantify places, and I am never a fan of ranking everything in sight, but in my mind Paris is the at the top of the pinnacle. My love of beauty is satisfied at every turn. The care taken with every morsel of food is so impressive that I feel as if I can live on the inspiration for years. I am a self-confessed Francophile. Isn’t anything one does, anything at all, worth doing well? That is what I admire about la belle France. The streets, washed every morning with a small flood that swooshes through, allows shopkeepers to sweep and scrub their sidewalks leaving them fresh and clean. The bakers are up in the dark making the daily bread. Working your way through a loaf of sliced bread from start to finish is unheard of in France. To everything, there is a delicate balance.
Now this: Violence. Disruption. Aggression. Brutality. Hideous darkness. What is to be done?
We cannot stop being hospitable. After 9/11, I thought of all the wonderful raucous times my family enjoyed in New York. The nights at Madison Square Garden, the restaurants, the hotels, and the famous cab drivers; the city vowed to carry on being New Yorkers. So I pray for Paris. I pray for it to remain as the City of Light, and I expect to visit it again sometime soon. I hope the cafes are never forced to close their doors again. Church bells rang throughout the city on Sunday. U2 had to cancel their concert. As reported in a radio interview with Irish D.J. Dave Fanning, Bono said, “ I think music is important. I think U2 has a role to play, and I can’t wait till we get back to Paris and play.”
“If music be the food of love, play on.” Shakespeare: Twelfth Night, Act One, Scene One.