A friend called to tell us what was happening in Paris as we were driving in the suburbs last night. We turned on the radio.
We switched on the TV as soon as we got home. We don't have cable; we have a portable antenna that often doesn't work well. The only station we could get was Fox, with commentary that added to the surreal nature of what we were seeing. Surely President Obama didn't say that ISIS was contained, meaning they were fully under control? Looking at other news sources online, I saw that he said it in the context of what's happening on the ground in Syria and Iraq — quite a different thing, although the Fox anchors chose to ignore the full meaning of his statement.
We lounged on the bed, where we watch only football (I listen and nap, mostly), Masterpiece, Scandal, news of major terrorist attacks, and the Winter Olympics. Possum seemed to sense our mood and kept us company — see above. Petting a cat is always a comfort. It was a long night.
My husband loves The Walking Dead. He watches it on his laptop or iPad. After he discovered it, he praised it constantly and begged me to watch the pilot with him, hoping I'd get hooked, too. I have trouble watching violence (mafia movies are an exception, for some unknown reason) but I finally agreed to watch it with him as a Valentine's Day present. I'm not sure I made it to the end. I couldn't sleep that night and still felt queasy thinking about it over the next couple of days.
Watching the news last night reminded me of that. I can't handle violent or apocalyptic entertainment because it feels too real to me. I'm too literal and unsophisticated, I guess, to detach emotionally from scenes of horror and suffering no matter how outrageously fictional. It reminds me, too vividly, of other, equally unimaginable things that actually happen in this world. As in Paris. While I feel I have a duty not to shirk from knowing about wars, genocides, natural disasters, terrorism and other terrible things, I force myself to do it. Watching fictional horror is never enjoyable because I can't fully separate it from the real thing, which often seems to mimic or copy the fiction. At any rate it seems to keep getting worse and worse, just as TV and movies become increasingly extreme as we grow numb to their shock value.
My dad, who is 101, built a sound projector from scrap materials as a teenager, and showed silent movies to the neighborhood, including his grandparents and other older immigrants who'd never seen anything like it. My dad says they were amazed and frightened by what they called his "witchcraft."
I guess this apple didn't fall too far from the old family tree.
One of the best things about Facebook is how we can quickly find out that friends are safe. While we were still in the car last night, I was able to touch base with some people in Paris almost immediately and it was a relief. I remember responding the same way after the Marathon bombings, since we live just a few blocks from the finish line. A quick post from me on Facebook kept dozens of people from worrying about us. People rag on Facebook, but I am often grateful for the way it allows me to be in touch quickly and easily with people I care about far and wide. My Facebook friends are a relatively small group made up mostly of people I know pretty well. We are not there to brag or promote ourselves, but to be friendly and supportive, and to keep in touch with thoughtful or interesting posts.
All the images of the Paris streets last night reminded me of happy hours I've spent there over the past 30 years. Paris, more than in any other place I know, feels designed to let us savor the good, simple pleasures in life. The city offers countless small, civilized, innocent enjoyments to anyone who has a little means and some taste. It surrounds you with beauty — splendid architecture, great art, the river, elegant streets and squares, gardens, grand old trees. Cafés everywhere invite anyone to linger and relax, brood, read, write, or chat over coffee or wine. Even people watching is more rewarding there: almost everyone has style, regardless of age or income bracket. Almost everyone takes a little trouble to look good, although it often looks effortless. Even street food and the many bakeries and patisseries offer anyone a little taste of heaven for just a couple of Euros. And, of course, daily life revolves around meals, anticipated and savored whether at home or in a restaurant. Dinner is still the time when family and friends gather and talk. Who can find anything wrong in all of this? Who would violently attempt to destroy it? Who would shoot out a restaurant? Or a theater? It's impossible to fathom.
I wish I were there. I would go tomorrow if I had the means. I'd find a café, and pull out a book, and sit by the window. We can't let them win.