As I write this, sympathizers all over the Western world are holding gatherings in honor of the seventeen victims of last week’s terrorist attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and the ensuing carnage.
Our little village of Martizay is no exception. The Je Suis Charlie (“I am Charlie”) posters were up at our grocery and two bakeries yesterday, and an email went out from city hall. As 11 AM drew near, we biked to the village square, and saw people leaving their front doors and gates, all striding purposefully in the same direction. The woman who runs the art gallery closed it for an hour and came out. The man at the antique store fumbled to lock his door while carrying a baby still sucking at a bottle, because no feeding was more important than this : a town full of shocked and violated citizens of the Republic got to do something in response to the horror in Paris, some 200 miles north east of here.
What made this all the more extraordinary is that in our eight days in Martizay, we have seen practically nobody on the streets. It is a town of farming, retirees, and summer homes, many now closed up. In the damp January of the flat swampy Parc de la Brenne, the downtown is dead by day and night. Even the bar closes before sundown.
But there are some 1000 people in Martizay and a good 100 of them showed up on the square outside the church on a rare sunny day. Country people are not demonstrative, beyond the multiple cheek kisses exchanged in greeting. Everybody knew most everybody else, it seemed.
Babies, toddlers, young parents trying to explain what was happening, a clutch of widows surveying the crowd, the older men who play boules on Wednesdays, and the young folk who commute to work in Chateauroux and Poitiers — all gathered in little groups. People were happy to see each other, but the air was subdued. Nobody knew exactly what to do except show up. They wore the distinctive “Je Suis Charlie” badges, and carried signs.
Only fifteen minutes late, Mayor Jean-Michel Loupias quieted the crowd and pulled out his speech on white paper. It was carefully composed in the elegant French style of formal discourse. He said that this event would live forever in our history and memory, that the right of free speech has long been a sacred French tenet, and that this event held possibilities to lead us back to the Inquisition. He added that we would not be discouraged, or shaken, or changed by these events. Then he called for a moment of silence, which was being observed all over France today.
Lastly, we all signed the register, a new and beautiful hardbound white book of coffee table dimensions. People wrote messages of support, and added their names. This book will be sent to Charlie Hebdo. The crowd dispersed in little clutches, and we headed over to the tiny Bar-Tabac. Like the clumsy Americans that we are, we grabbed the last table of the five, and were joined by another couple, who, in the country French way, failed to introduce themselves.
But I introduced us, and there followed some interesting chat about the history and present of Martizay. The couple, from Martizay families, have been sweethearts since the age of twelve. He told us that this is “la France profonde” – deep France. In summer there are city French, Dutch, and British folk, but now there are only the real people, and he added, “they are not rich people.”
Service was slow, our new friends said, because the barkeep had brought in a contractor friend to help serve drinks for the weekly Sunday midday gathering, thickened this week by the Charlie event. “This is not his job,” the man explained. After downing a thimble of wine each, they picked up the check, against our protests, and went back to their own little house down the street. But first we wrested their names from them: Michel and Marise.
I am thinking that this demonstration would have been different in a big city. In the crowd of 700,000 who assembled yesterday in Paris, I would have been guarding my wallet and my toes. Here, it was possible to focus on the meditation at hand, and the 98 strangers did not seem so strange. We didn’t have to know each other to understand what was happening. And then we did know each other.
Katharine Doel said:
Bob Laurence said:
Le cri des Français semble couvrir tout le monde. Les entrées des journaux ne touche que l’affaire Charlie Hebdo et ce qui en dérive. C’est presque le même ici aux Etats-Unis.
Free speech is sacred everywhre it exists, and terrorism is inexcusable. There are many, many Muslims in France, and they too have voiced their disapproval of the violent fringe. As in other religions, human life is sacred to them.
Mary O'Connell Cummings said:
Timing is everything, and your presence there during this sad time makes it all the more poignant for us at home, and provides us with a personal connection to this historic event. “Merci” for your ability to share your experiences so beautifully!
It was my honor to be present.
Jackie Fisher said:
Thank you for writing this blog. We needed to know how Martizay expressed itself on such an important day. You are right that the villagers are generally a reserved bunch, after all this is their domain and culture- they don’t need to look beyond it, but if you as an ‘etranger’
make the effort as you did in the bar, you will find them warm and generous.
That was our experience. A pleasure to bring this to you, as I’m sure you wondered about what was happening in your home community.
Beautifully written Louise…..
Sent from my iPhone
Thank you, Bettie.
You were so lucky to be right in the “France profonde ” to share the emotion of the country people at this time of sorrow.
I’m sure the people you met at the bar-tabac after the gathering appreciated your presence there among them. This is an event you’ll remember.
It reminds me of the morning of September 11, as I was packing my suitcase in NYC to board the plane to France that same morning !!
. By a twist of faith , I was caught in the middle live “History” bring made , just like you in France. I saw on TV the huge crowd of people gathered in Paris.
I’ll talk about this in class tomorrow morning , since I’m meeting my 50 students for the first time on campus at Wash State Univ . I hope they know what happened !!
It’s such an opportunity for you to educate them a bit. We take free speech so much for granted! Also…safety.
Anita Blanchard said:
I have copied your post and sent it to several friends. This was extremely well written and I thank you for the blog and for representing Americans so well. I think the part that really stood out too me was the mayor’s speech that referenced the Inquisition. Europe understands this so much better than we do because in their history they have the clear example of religion taken to the edge and a small angry group holding all the power and imposing their vision on the population.
I think back to your first trip to the coast of France for a month, the renting of the apartment, shopping in the market, frequenting the cafes, wanting to know what it was like to feel like a local, have the paradigm shift. I believe this visualization has presented itself perfectly in your lives. Great joy.
At first the word Inquisition shocked me a bit….but of course, he was right. The Salem Witch Trials cannot compete with that, but did McCarthy come close? Well, McCarthy didn’t actually murder anybody….
Thank you so much for the opportunity to experience the deadly,horrific events that occured in Paris through the eyes of the French people themselves. You are painting a portrait in words of a lovely bucolic place in the French countryside that sounds like a bit of heaven to an introvert who loves any kind of animal person like me.
Love to you both, Kathy