I hope the New Year is rolling along nicely in its first few weeks. The world seems a little bumpier than usual right now in these first days of the year. In my blog last week, I mentioned the tragedies in Paris, and am noticing the mood in Paris in the aftermath. I think when anything shocking happens, people retreat into their shell for a while to try and figure out what happened, and why, and how they feel about it.
January is a quiet month in most places. People have gotten through the holidays and are tired, the weather tends to be dreary everywhere, gray and cold, rainy or snowy, except if you live in a tropical place somewhere. Two years ago, I stayed home in January in bitter cold weather in Paris, and discovered the TV series Downton Abbey and fell in love with it, and became addicted to it. It’s also a good month to stay home and catch up on work. Nothing much seems to happen in January. And I usually do a lot of writing this month.
And this year, January has happened with a jolt, with the events in Paris. The reaction of French people has been one of strength. Only days after the events which riveted the attention of the world and turned all eyes toward Paris, they held a ‘solidarity rally’, in which 2 million people showed up in a public square in Paris, walked about ten blocks, many of them arm in arm, and holding signs—and quite amazingly was attended by almost every Head of State and Crowned Head in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East. They came together to show their support for the people of France after the sad events and attacks that had happened. I was in New York at the time, and cried as I watched the March on CNN. It was extremely moving, old people, young people, world leaders, Presidents, little children. It represented almost half the population of Paris and the surrounding suburbs, and was an extraordinary heartwarming and peaceful event.
A week after the intense drama began, with attacks, deaths, hostage situations, and suicide missions carried out, the mood of Paris is quiet and pensive. Much like the atmosphere in New York after 9/11, which was a far bigger event, in terms of loss of life, the city and its people seem silent and somewhat withdrawn, almost like someone who has been injured and needs to be in a quiet place for a while to think about it and heal from the shock. It is an odd combination of emotions, both sadness and strength, determination not to be terrorized or victimized, respect for those who died, and although quiet, the people seem very brave and strong. There are noticeably fewer people on the streets, and in restaurants and stores, fewer cars, less traffic. People seem very serious, and wisdom dictates staying out of big public places that could be vulnerable: the subway, department stores, big stadiums, some people are avoiding places of worship, so as not to draw attention to themselves. Like any time of mourning, it is a time to turn inward, rather than reach outward, and yet the march last weekend was an extraordinary reaching out in unity and show of strength. But it is also a harsh awakening to the risks and dangers of our troubled world, with the realization that people are vulnerable in every country around the world. Just as 9/11 was a tremendous wake up call in the US, I think these recent events in France were a similar sounding of the alarm in France that they can be at risk in a grocery store, at work or at home.
The big event in January in Paris usually is the sales. The government demands that all stores hold sales in January and July, with terrific bargains of great goods, marked down up to 70%. Stores don’t get to just do sales randomly whenever they want, and they are expected to put their past season’s merchandise on sale during those two months. It usually creates a festive atmosphere, draws shoppers to Paris from all over France, and even from other countries. People come for bargains and pretty things, the streets and stores are crowded, and traffic gets very congested. This month though, the city is almost eerily quiet, with few people in the stores, and no sign of traffic or the usual excitement about sales. Maybe it will pick up before the month is over, as people recover from the trauma to the city and the nation, but suddenly buying a sweater on sale, or a pair of shoes, seems insignificant compared to the bigger issues. I have a feeling that the sales won’t do as well this month as they normally do.
And even farther along the spectrum, in the last days of January is fashion’s Haute Couture week, with really beautiful fashion shows held by important designers of Couture clothes: clothes that have to be ordered, take several months to make and are entirely handmade (every stitch!!). They are extremely beautiful, and works of art, and also extremely expensive given the man-hours it takes to create them. France has always made a big fuss about Couture week, and about its fashion industry, ready to wear as well. Weeks after a national tragedy, it’s hard to imagine people coming from many different countries to view the fashions on the runways. But it’s an industry as well as an art, and people are resilient. And I’m sure that in a few weeks, people will be ready to see the shows, and ready to return to life. Chanel and Dior are the two most important houses that produce the clothes, and there are a number of others. And maybe after a few weeks of silent mourning, people will be ready to face the world again, and think of fashion. For now, it is quiet in Paris, and the mood is somber and strong. And in some ways, maybe it will be a relief to think of something more frivolous, and turn back the clock to an easier, simpler time. France has survived Revolution, Occupation, and two wars. The French are strong people, and they will come through this as well…..and for now, their serious quiet mood seems appropriate. It is the right reaction for the time, and perhaps good for all of us, wherever we are, to think of what’s important to us, what freedoms are essential to us, and what national values, or even what personal values we believe in. A little serious thinking never hurts. And the outpouring of support from other countries has been amazing.
We live in challenging times. I hope that your life is peaceful and all is well with you. And I’ll be writing to you about the fashion shows in a few weeks, when I go to see one by Chanel. Take care.