September 24, 2020

Paris, the promised walk – The Province


I fled Paris a week before the Bataclán attack with the intention of returning in a month. I had promised it to Pepe Rodríguez, but on the night of November 13, 2015, the shootings that cost the lives of 131 people changed the world that I had known in that city and that for so many years had taken me in. My decision not to return left a walk in the air, which in the end turned out to be final. It was time to turn the page and return to Spain. Those streets that lead to the Canal Saint-Martin would remain forever, a place where the best possible youth can be found.

We saw each other at the height of the Eugéne Varlin bridge. In summer, the wealthiest Parisians take out their motor boats and have aperitifs before the jealous gaze of the rest of us mortals, who drink wine straight from the bottle and break the Camembert cheese with our hands. Those nights we used to end up at Le Comptoir Gènèral, a bar decorated with photos of African presidents and where they played jazz. Long queues formed at the entrance, so we reserved half a bottle of wine to make the wait more enjoyable.

AND We were going down the canal to the south. The neighborhood where we lived, the Xº arrondissemente, between Belleville, Ménilmontant and Republique, was undoubtedly the liveliest place in Paris. Away from tourist hordes, art galleries and craft shops grew, bars specializing in local products, where young people and pensioners gathered. A jet of modernity that filled the cafes with Arabs watching football matches and men in jackets reading Le Figaro. The most multicultural space in a city full of adjacent worlds. That is why the attack was so significant. The Islamic State attacked a way of life, ours, the European, the freedom of belief and the impudence of the youth. In part, that night something broke in the canal streets.

To go from my apartment to Pepe’s, we would take rue Alibert to Avenida Parmentier. We never went to Petit Cambodge, one of the restaurants attacked that night, but the place is already part of the sentimental landscape of our friendship. Like the Casa Nostra restaurant, also the scene of the shootings, at the entrance to the square that forms rue de la Fontaine au Roi. We would face the street and see the slope of the Butte-Chaumont, the highest point in the city, which was a mine just a century ago and which today is one of the most fascinating green spaces in Europe.

It is a simple walk, full of small fragments of experiences that combine pain with the best memories. To get to Republique was to change space. A large sculpture of the Marianne, the allegory of the French Republic, presides over the square. Traditionally it is the place chosen by the left to end their demonstrations, which begin in the Bastille. Boulevard Beaumarchais communicates these two revolutionary emblems that have already been trapped in one of the most bourgeois parts of the city. Irony of the times. Today, the square is also the symbol of resistance against the barbarism of Islamic fundamentalism. It served as a protest against the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and in those days of November the Parisians filled their cobblestones with lit candles and handwritten letters. A few meters away, the Bataclán, that theater turned into a scene of terror still preserves bouquets of flowers and spontaneous tributes on its facade. Paris is a city made of that kind of secular pilgrimages. You can never give them up.

AND Arrived at Republique, our exquisite tastes of young people with their first salaries They demanded that we descend towards the Marais. We took rue du Temple, one of the most beautiful streets in the city. The traveler immediately understands that the century has changed. Now urbanism is tight. The buildings increase in age and the churches appear between domes and medieval towers. It was the neighborhood where the Order of the Templars suffered melancholy over the fall of Jerusalem. There they installed their headquarters and the Temple Tower. Legend says that Jacques de Molay spent the night before its burning, at the tip of the Ile de la Cité, in the tower, and that he predicted the death of the King of France. Centuries later, Louis XVI was also a prisoner in the same tower, hours before the guillotine ended the monarchy and established terror. They say in the neighborhood that Jacques de Molay was avenged.

The rue du Vieille du Temple used to be the end of our getaway. We’d have a bottle of white wine at Les Philosophes until it got dark, sitting on the terrace, the chairs close together, talking to strangers and snobby girls we dreamed of traveling all summer in Italy. Or at least get their phone numbers. Before returning to the neighborhood, we ate falafel in rue des Rosiers, the center of the Jewish Marais.

Those were the geographical limits of my last Parisian days. The scene of a world that collapsed on the November night of the attacks and that struggles little by little, against fear, to break through again, because life is always stronger than terror. At least that promised ride will stay on this page forever.

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