Saturday, 10 January 2015

On Losing France

I love Paris. I love France. And I even love the French. And I am sad to lose them.

I know that this is perhaps unusual for an Englishwoman to say. But it is true nonetheless. I grew up going on holiday to France every year. I imbibed the message (true, in my opinion) that France has better food, better wine, better culture and better weather than England. When I was a child, French was the language my parents spoke when they didn't want us to understand, with the result that French was the language that I most wanted to learn.

I have learned French history and French culture, French language and French cooking, French herbs and French geography. At the end of a week in Strasbourg many years ago, I dreamed in French and thought in French.

I consider France to be a country that I belong to. It is mine, by right of love and understanding, along with England and America (Israel, of course, is mine by right of birth, as I am hers). As a historian I can say that France's history is part of my own history.

While I have always loved la France profonde more than gay Paris, Paris is still the heart of the country, and so it is a part of the heart of me. And so please understand that when I say that as Paris falls apart, a part of me does too. I imagine I would feel the same if it were London or New York that was dissolving into chaos. One of my cities can no longer protect her citizens and no longer cares for her Jews. We may not be being expelled as from Anatefka, with our packs on our backs and our children on donkeys, but we are being expelled nonetheless.

It may, in truth, be that France herself would like her Jews to stay, but she has been taken whole as hostage by Islamic terror and is in no position to make demands. She was complicit in her own downfall, but that makes it no better.

In a very small way I start to understand that pain and sadness of the Jews who lost Berlin, the ones who chose to leave when the horror of the Holocaust was still unthinkable. Oh the sadness of watching a country I care about, one that is beautiful and cultured and special to me, slip away. It's a different kind of loss, one that brings to mind this poem by Elizabeth Bishop.

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

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