Attack on our way of life brought out the best in Parisians
Published 16/11/2015 | 02:30
It's only when you've practically given up on them that the French suddenly show their best side.
Less than a month ago, envoys sent from the foreign ministry to an overflowing migrant camp in Munich with enough buses to bring back 1,000 displaced Syrians, could not convince more than 600 to make their home in France.
The migrants had read that the French themselves were fleeing their country to seek jobs in Britain and elsewhere. Unemployment, after all, is at 10.4pc, taxes and prices are high, the country's economic growth flat-lining, and our rugby players can't score a try.
The twin national sports are grumbling and self-pity. Foreign visitors are faced with surly waiters, aggressive taxi drivers, gouging prices and incomprehensible red tape.
But shoot and bomb us in scenes of carnage not seen since 1944 in the name of a nihilistic cult? Suddenly the spirit of Delacroix's and Victor Hugo's Marianne is back.
I've never been so proud of my city and my nation. The everyday heroism of the resistance - the one I grew up with, in family recollections - sprang alive again.
Those same rude taxi drivers offered free rides to people stranded in streets where terrorists rampaged. Parisians opened their homes to strangers during that interminable night.
Doctors, who the previous week were striking, volunteered by the hundred in every hospital. "I don't know half the faces I've been working side by side with all night," the head of A&E at the Georges-Pompidou hospital said, his shirt stained with the blood of the night's wounded. "They just showed up."
Teenagers, whose video game and internet addictions we had loudly decried, refused to stay in hospital after being treated. "People needed the beds more," one 17-year-old told his mother, a friend of mine, after his gunshot wound had been dressed.
In the days following, as curfew was decreed, public buildings closed down and Parisians were told to stay in their homes, people refused to be "cowed" - a silly word foreign interviewers tried again and again to impose on us.
Public rallies were forbidden, for security reasons. But still people showed up at the Bataclan and the Place de la Republique nearby, where the Charlie Hebdo march had started back in January.
On Saturday, they made a point of going to restaurants and cafes in the very streets where so many had died.
We have no illusion that this spirit will be sustained in its pure form in the coming days. Political unity won't last, new jobs won't happen by magic. But we know, looking at one another in the street, that inside us all, that spark always existed.