Louisiana doesn’t need an international crisis to remind it of our deep ties to the people of France. We’re a former French colony named after a French king. Our food, culture and, in many cases, our family blood lines are touched by France, too.
That makes last week’s terrorist attacks against the people of Paris all the more heartbreaking for Louisiana residents. Our thoughts and prayers are with the French people.
In Louisiana, we know what it’s like to be tested by crisis and prevail. Watching the tragic events in Paris, we were moved to think that part of our resilience here owes to a healthy strain of resolve in the French DNA. How moving to see so many Parisians out on the streets after the bloody attacks, determined not to let barbarians subdue what many regard as the most civilized city in the world.
Earlier this month, before the terrible events in Paris that galvanized sympathy around the world, former New York Times Paris bureau chief Elaine Sciolino published “The Only Street in Paris: Life Along the Rue des Martyrs,” a celebration of a neighborhood in the City of Light she’s come to love.
In a month when Paris and the civilized world are being tested by horror, there’s no better book to remind readers of what makes France’s most famous metropolis so special.
Although Parisians have a reputation for aloofness, Sciolino’s account of life on and around the rue des Martyrs tells a different story. She uses her favorite street to convey a larger truth — that in one of the biggest and most iconic cities in the world, it’s still possible to find warmth and intimacy in the smaller venues of local neighborhoods.
“The rue des Martyrs has managed to retain the feel of a small village despite the globalization and gentrification rolling over Paris like a bulldozer without brakes,” she writes.
Much of the book involves wish-you-were-here travelogue, as Sciolino indulges the usual Parisian pleasures. “There are merchants who seduce me with their gastronomic passions: artichokes so young they can be served raw, a Côtes du Rhône so smooth it could be a fine Bergundy, a Mont d’Or cheese so creamy it is best eaten with a spoon,” she writes.
But “The Only Street in Paris” strikes darker notes, too. The rue des Martyrs, we’re reminded, is where the patron saint of France was beheaded — a testament to the way that violence has touched this deeply cultivated city for centuries, just as it’s shadowed humanity everywhere. And in her acknowledgments, Sciolino recalls standing in line to get copies of Charlie Hebdo after the satirical journal’s staff was attacked by terrorists in January.
As Paris endures the aftermath of yet another terrorist assault, “The Only Street in Paris” bears testimony to the city’s resilience. “Not all has been lost on the rue des Martyrs,” Sciolino writes hopefully, “not yet.”
To our French cousins, we say, “Vive la France.”