'Letter from Paris' by Colin Nettelbeck

After the horrific massacres in Paris and the ensuing ones in Belgium that were purportedly intended for France, the French were spontaneously drawn together in a defiant affirmation of their fundamental values. In the weeks following the killings, they marched, they ate at restaurants, they took the métro, they gathered in museums, galleries, and cinemas. They were not, in short, going to be immured or intimidated.

Today, while not forgetting, Parisians no longer feel the need for such public demonstrations of solidarity. The State of Emergency declared by President François Hollande after the attacks at the Stade de France and the Bataclan on 13 November 2015 is still in force at the time of writing; it is indeed likely to be prolonged to cover the upcoming UEFA Euro 2016 soccer competition and the Tour de France. One is put through airport style security at museums, in many public buildings, and even some shops. There is an increased police presence, but it is not overwhelming, and certainly nowhere as intimidating as what I remember from my student days in Paris during the Algerian War. What some Australians may find surprising is that so many of the police one sees patrolling around railway stations, big parks, and certain 'sensitive' neighbourhoods like the suburban housing estates or the Place de la République, are of Caribbean, African, or North-African background. It is a reminder that in most aspects of public life – in the shops, the banks, the professions, the trades – ethnic diversity is a norm rather than an exception. Front National leader Marine Le Pen is whistling to songs that have no connection with current reality – which of course doesn't stop her from catching the ear of nostalgics and those who seek simple solutions to complex problems.

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Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he held the A.R. Chisholm Chair of French. He taught previously at the University of California (Berkeley) and Monash University. He has written extensively about twentieth-century and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with special focus on the French experience of World War II. His most recent book is Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, published by Melbourne University Press in 2004. His essay ‘Kneecapper: a Trip to Happiness’ (published in the Autumn 2011 Meanjin Quarterly) was shortlisted for the 2010 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He was awarded second prize in the 2012 Calibre Prize for ‘Now They’ve Gone’.

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