Believe it or not, one of my favorite scenes from the Hollywood classic film Casablanca is one where the characters of Rick and Ilsa are basically “background” characters. It’s the scene at Rick’s Cafe where the character of Victor Laszlo (a staunch anti-Nazi) demands the house band play the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” after hearing the group of Nazis singing “Die Wacht am Rhein,” a German patriotic anthem. That moment when the band members look over to Rick for permission to indeed go ahead with playing a song that was basically treason (at the time of the film, French Morocco was under German control), and he simply gives a nod back is just huge.
The Marseillaise was originally a revolutionary song, an anthem to freedom, a call for its citizens to fight against tyranny and in Rick’s Cafe that night, they did just that. It’s such a beautiful scene to see the characters from all different backgrounds and homelands who are trying to escape the effects of war, banding together through the singing of this beautiful “fight song” and subsequently overpowering what the German singing represents. It’s a scene that still resonates more than 70 years after Casablanca was first released.
When I first heard about the attacks last week in Paris I was stunned. Yes, I know this is the type of normal that has tragically plagued countries like Lebanon and Kenya for years, decades even. And no, no one event of death and destruction ever deserves more attention, more compassion from the global community than other events. But I think in the case of Paris, it’s that what happened struck so close to their hearts. I know this is the case with me.
I’ve been to countless cities around the world, many of which have charmed and stayed with me, years after I visited. But the one city I’ve always loved the most has been Paris. Sure, my visits there have always been too short. I speak only beginner’s French (or Frenish as I like to call it-a combination of French and Spanish). I’ve never had the best of meals nor stayed in the best of lodgings (let’s not mention that semi-abomination I stayed at in the 18th arrondissement). And yet, Paris is the one place I could go back to again and again.
The second time I visited Paris I was at somewhat of a low point during my semester abroad in Seville, Spain. I was still getting over a horrendous case of food poisoning that had struck me a couple of weeks earlier and I was just disenchanted with the whole Spanish culture (scandalous, I know). However, the brief weekend I spent in the City of Light was just magical (too magical as I returned to Seville feeling even more depressed; thankfully those feelings subsided with the arrival of spring a couple of weeks later). However, I was there alone and I did everything that I wanted to see and do (one of the best parts about solo travel). As my first visit to Paris had been such a wash, thanks to contracting a tonsil infection while there, my second visit more than made up for it. The Paris I saw during that weekend in March 2006 was the Paris I had always envisioned.
I know Paris isn’t parfait. I know she doesn’t look like the Paris you see in Hollywood. She’s covered in graffiti in some places, she has individuals who don’t get that they should clean up after their chiens, she’s inundated with people whose driving force is to infuriate the ever living hell out of tourists with their gimmicks and harassing antics (the “string people” at the base of Sacre Coeur). But Paris is Paris, there’s no place else like it in the world and there never will be.
Last week’s attacks were not the first time Paris saw violence and tragedy on its streets. And sadly, in the volatile world we live in today, who knows what the future will bring. But as history has shown over centuries, Paris and its people are résilient.
Marchons, marchons indeed.
I dedicate this post in the memory of the victims of last week’s attacks in Paris and all innocent victims of senseless violence throughout the world.