I wrote recently about living in France in the age of terror and yesterday I fled from the Louvre with a group of tourists and staff because a panic had erupted in the main lobby (under the pyramid). It was a false alarm, apparently caused by a faulty fire alarm and a dodgy escape door but for us who were quietly having a coffee and looking forward to another 4 hours wandering the rooms in awe, none of that was apparent in the moment. There was a kerfuffle slightly louder than what usually bubbles in any public space with thousands of people and lots of really bored kids. Then that kerfuffle grew in intensity. When I looked up from my book I saw people sprinting past the cafe, out towards the exits, while screaming. I looked the other way and saw the pupils dilate on the American couple who had been ahead of me in the queue, and decisively, the cold fear in the stiff postures of the staff manning the coffee bar. We all moved at the same time, calmly but decisively. I packed my phone away, utterly dominated by the idea that I needed to ring my wife when this was over so she wouldn’t worry. I hesitated and then packed my book as well, because it wasn’t my book. My supervisor had lent it to me and it was a signed copy and the last thing I needed on top of being killed by terrorists was to have lost someone’s book.
Anyway, there were no terrorists. There was much more confusion than the press reports present. The staff that we encountered did not know what was happening and were all scared shitless, to use a technical term. But what is true is that everyone I encountered was calm and decent and serious. Our little group of 6 picked up stragglers in the maze of huge corridors under the Louvre. People were apparently panicking up in the main museum but we were apart from that entirely, able to walk at a quick pace, but ensuring that no one was left behind. No one was crying. No one was having a heart attack. Maybe everyone suspected it was a false alarm because the adrenaline had been pumping for 60, 120, 240 seconds and still nothing bad had happened. We exited via a staff entrance. The army and the police hadn’t even arrived yet; we were that efficient in our escape. The waitresses were hanging around wondering if their jobs were under threat if it turned out to have been a hoax or a false alarm (the precarity of labour is, after all, the mundane terror that afflicts the European Union) and the Americans basically gave up and went back to their hotel and I was left with a woman from Central America who had told me along the corridor that she had heard alarms beeping erratically throughout the day but that when she saw the stampede it was such that she assumed something horrendous had happened. People reported on Twitter that they heard folk shouting “They’re shooting!” and I definitely interpreted the cacophonous cries as a response to human agency. Inside the Louvre, people were looking over their shoulders while sprinting, because they running from something. Out on the street, amidst the stylish people smoking cigarettes and beeping horns, it was growing clear that there as nothing to run from. Nothing horrendous had happened. Someone panicked, and some idiot probably thought it was funny to shout about terrorists and instead of his friends laughing, there was the cold sweat of hundreds of human beings erupted into evolutionary flight. The woman and I had an awkward moment where it would have been fitting to go for a drink or a coffee and talk about normal things until our heart-rates stabilised. But I was driven through the whole thing by the deep urge to tell my wife that everything was ok. So we shook hands and parted ways, beseeching the Lord to keep the other safe for the rest of their trip.
Existential fear was a surprise.
In the corridor, I stopped to introduce myself to the two people directly beside me; Sienna and Tom. I guess I figured that if the shit hit the fan, being able to call each other would help. But it was habit, kicking in. You introduce yourself to people. Even in the midst of the terror that this might be terror, basic, everyday normal human interactions go on.
I think that shouldn’t be a surprise.
The night before I had written a thing about plagiarism and then I went to sleep and I woke up because of the noise on my noisy street and I realised that the thing that I had written was actually an academic article without the footnotes. After the thesis is finished, I need to publish articles to keep the academic side of things alive, and so I had to take that thing about plagiarism down, ironically for fear of auto-plagiarism.
Auto-plagiarism. It’s a thing, allegedly.
Don’t fear terrorists, fear university administrators with Turnitin privileges.
Anyway, that is just to say that my decision to withdraw the piece had nothing to do with Mrs. Trump hilariously plagiarising Mrs. Obama. The embedding of the rickroll in the midst of it was a touch of genius.
This morning a bird pooed on me but it only hit my hand, so that was a small mercy. And this afternoon I mined out some thesis gold before having Korean food for the first time (in a restaurant at least, since a Korean friend in Aberdeen cooked dinner for me once but she included potatoes because she had heard that Irish people only eat spuds), in a lovely little local place with whimsical cartoons and toys on the wall. My classmate, from Seoul, had told me to order beef bibimbap if I ever went for Korean food and so I did. It was delicious. I was the only person in the restaurant and the old guy running the place advised me on how to eat all the different pieces he served me and sent me away with a Korean sweet (the only unappetising aspect of the meal). When I got home, there was new graffiti on the wall of my building that is utterly delightful.
It is no exaggeration to say that the world seems dark and it appears to be getting darker still. But that is not the end of the story. It was very, very hot yesterday morning in Paris. Or at least it felt that way to me; I have lived on the edge of the North Sea for three years now, after all. I was walking to school through the Luxembourg Gardens, taking a new route, as is my wont. I came in through an unfamiliar gate and stumbled into an area where they were growing these magnificent plants. Hoses arched over the green stalks and automatic sprinklers were arcing water into the air, about 7 feet high. Mini rainbows sprung up across my field of vision. The morning joggers made a beeline to run through the vapour falling from on high, as did I. My shirt was drenched in short order and it was more refreshing than watermelon in the afternoon. I was reminded of this from Gilead:
That mention of Feuerbach and joy reminded me of something I saw early one morning a few years ago, as I was walking up to the church. There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl weeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash.
Ames goes on to add, “I wish I had paid more attention to it.”
When times are dark, that’s when you really have to pay attention. Let’s make sure we pay it for the things that matter.
Your Correspondent, He was right about the stars; each one is a setting sun