I am, as Hemingway put it, “lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man.” I’ve spent many wonderful weeks in the City of Light, wandering streets roamed by some of humanity’s best and brightest.
Paris is the city of Voltaire and Baron D’Holbach, of Diderot, D’Alembert and the other encyclopédistes, of Rousseau, Montesquieu, Bayle and, even briefly Hume and Descartes. For a long time Paris was, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, possibly the only candle in a very dark world. Jefferson fell in love with Paris and gave ideal advice, “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison opted to stay in Paris forever, thousands still visit their graves (though Morrison may be moving).
Nietzsche claimed that “an artist has no home in Europe except Paris.” They agreed. Rodin and Houdon, Monet and Manet, Picasso and Pissarro, Chagall and Matisse, Duchamp and Dali, Renior and Seurat, and van Gogh and Gaugin, all were inspired by Paris. Daguerre basically invented photography to capture the magic of Paris, while Henri Cartier-Bressonperfected the art 90 years later on the same streets.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, de Balzac, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Emerson, Henry Miller, and even Twain all came to Paris. Simone de Beauvior and her lover, the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre made Paris home. As did Pascal and Fermi. Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie saved millions of lives with their scientific studies in Paris.
Paris is a beacon. It attracts luminaries like these (many of whom were freethinkers). But that same quality, so loathed by the unenlightened also fascinates them. Humanity’s worst want to extinguish Paris’s light. Thugs that cannot accept criticism or mockery or independent women would snuff out the radiant candle with bullets and bombs.
Violence will never compel our silence. Free speech, free press, and free thought will continue to win because these benighted murderers fail to realize what Thomas Paine observed shortly before moving Paris, “the mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” We will continue to exercise and cherish our freedoms. We will continue to work to drag their ignorant, arrogantly certain ideologies into the enlightened present—though they might kick, scream, and kill.
Je t’aime Paris.
Je suis Paris.