It had rained fairly steadily throughout the 11 November. I was in Paris. In the morning I had seen and heard the very large number of blue and black windowless vans passing by, vans that were taking the thousands of security personnel and riot police down towards the places where the commemorations were to take place. Many Heads of State had gathered in Paris to acknowledge the centenary of the ending of the Great War.
The newspapers had forewarned the residents of Paris that around 10,000 troops and police were to be deployed to protect those Heads of State (and their respective entourages of associated dignitaries) from terrorist or other forms of attack. (I rather smiled because I learned later that one or two women who belonged to the feminist group femen had been ‘led away’ – so as not to disconcert or disrupt the proceedings. 100,000 versus 1 or 2 wasn’t much of a contest.)
In the late afternoon I left the flat in which I was staying and walked down to the river Seine. In the late afternoon light on a mid-November day a rain-soaked Paris looked beautiful. The drenched streets and pavements shone with gorgeous lights and the fallen leaves laid intricate bronze and green and yellow patterns that made me feel as if I was in a painting or a magic land. The Seine, too, was alight with reflections. And it was a time to reflect …
I walked away from the quais of the Seine past Chatelet and I looked towards the magnificence of the Hotel de Ville – the ‘city hall’ of Paris. In the wide and open spaces in front of the Hotel de Ville the city had organised a stylish and thoughtful commemoration to lives lost and ruined in the first World War. They had, for example, created flowerbeds – that ranged, from left to right, in blue, then white, then red flowers; the flowers were tiny and the flowerbeds were vast.
And then I looked again at the astonishing achievement that is the Hotel de Ville. And as the suffering and loss of life were being remembered I could not help thinking that the British had made a great mistake in their decision to leave the European Union. I thought this, simply because, as a citizen of the EU, I somehow had a direct ‘share’ or ‘interest in’ or association with the Hotel de Ville – and in fact with all the great achievements that have taken place on the land area that is called Europe. In a strange and curious way I shared in the ownership of the Hotel de Ville and I did not want to lose this unusual sense of ownership.
At that very moment I would have liked all the people of the UK to come and stand where I was standing and I would say: ‘This is part of us. But I think we have failed to grasp our shared ‘ownership’ of such a remarkable cultural achievement. And surely we are lesser for it.’
Then it was the day after the 11 November … and I was one day closer to loss.