Feeling French Again, Ironically

By Samuel Bordenave '16

I was hoping to write an insightful piece like Thibaut Luckel ‘15 did last year after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Or maybe a great article filled with sociological reasoning to explain exactly what went wrong in France and why all this happened. However, I didn’t have enough information about the events and the motives. And mostly, I just couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the guts. I may put together something more cerebral in a future edition.

Samuel Bordenave '16

Samuel Bordenave '16

I also see no point in a detailed rendition of the events: Twitter, Facebook, the NYT, or your media of choice will do that for you. I think the best use of this space is to tell you a bit about some of the places that are in the news these days.

I used to live near Place de la République, and would go to the cafes in the 10th and 11th. My ex-roommates could hear some of the gunshots on Friday from their apartment. The 10th Arrondissement has amazing little streets and spots, walking there is like being in a clichéd movie about Paris, much like Montmartre. On a typical Saturday, I would walk out of my apartment onto Quai de Valmy, which is one of the banks of the Canal St. Martin; I would cross the canal on a tiny bridge surrounded by willow trees, and pass a little bar there called Le Pont Tournant. Maybe I’d have lunch there (on second thought, I wouldn’t, their food is terrible!), or I’d walk past the Carillon to this pizzeria called the Pink Flamingo. On some evenings, I would have dinner on the Rue Charonne, then walk on Boulevard Voltaire back to Chez Prune, or to the Comptoir Général, another café on the canal. On a single day, I could easily have walked past all the places that were attacked.

I used to go to the Bataclan, the concert venue that got raided, all the time. It is an iconic venue for indie, rock or electronic music. Growing up, the name was almost magical to me. The last show I saw in the Bataclan was by a German producer, Fritz Kalbrenner. Incidentally, he  played on Saturday night in Chicago!

As I pathetically scroll down my Facebook feed, I see that most of the concert venues, night clubs and museums that I used to go to will be closed for a couple of days. And I think that’s what is really tying my guts the most.

Embedded in Charlie was this concept of freedom of speech, and so in a way the debate really centered early on around this idea. We were fighting for a concept, a core value of our culture, but still pretty distant, at least for me. I mourned Charlie, but did not completely identify with them. This one feels different, for some reason. Maybe it is the scale of it, maybe it is because it is physically so close to home, maybe it is because it targeted some of the things that are dearest to me: music, cafés, the streets of Paris. And it has been interesting and sad for me to realize how much I missed home just as this happened. It’s always tempting in B-school to think, “That’s fine, I don’t miss home that much, I can handle coming back there once every year.” I thought I’d be fine, and now that this has happened, every part of me is shouting, “Yeah, I’m from there, it’s my city, it’s my neighborhood, and I should be with them.”

French people tend to mock and despise nationalist feelings. I think it is because we’ve seen where nationalists led Europe in the last century. We may treat people from other countries with disdain, but we don’t hold our country in high regard. “To hell if I ever wear a French flag.” On Friday, I really felt that I belonged to France. How ironic that it took such a tragedy for me to realize that. But after all, irony is also very French.

Samuel is a second year and is a French national.