Jan 11, 2015

Signs of Solidarity: Roquefort Carles


Day 4: Saturday, Yesterday

Gigi and I are out shopping the "Soldes" of the season, the day after the hostage situation, day four of the entire sordid affair of the terrorist storming of the Charlie Hebdo office. Paris is still not quite business as usual, but try telling that to the hundreds of bargain shoppers crammed into each store. The stores open longer than usual because it's the first weekend of the Soldes, but the streets are quieter, and some cafés and restaurants are shuttered, unusually.

By the Pompidou, a two story banner proclaims "We are all Charlie". Gigi wonders, quite reasonably, how on Earth they got such a huge sign made and hung so quickly. This is a country that takes 8 months to print out a wallet-sized ID card.

At Hôtel de Ville, people enjoy the ice skating rink and the carousel under the banner of (literally, in this case) "Paris is Charlie. We are Charlie".

Everywhere "We are Charlie", "I am Charlie" -- and I don't think it will disappear soon.

Day 5: Today, Sunday, the Day of the March of the Republic 
Preparing for the march today, I see an absolutely enormous amount of armed officers on the streets. If you wonder what I myself am doing on the streets on Sunday morning, let's just say that I have discovered the perfect time to hit the winter sales: Sunday morning on the day of the biggest march in French history. The stores are open (exceptionally) but completely unpeopled.
But this is different. There's definitely something in the air. There has been virtually no sound outside my very central window since Friday evening, after the hostages were freed and the 3-day episode of terror ended. Not a single street performer, accordionist, musician. Not even tourists. Not any people. Friday night at 11pm was so quiet, you could've heard a pin drop. It would have echoed.
Today, for the largest march in French history, it's fairly quiet, too. There's none of the running, screaming, posturing that's gone parading by our door (in central Paris, on the way to the Bastille/Republique/Nation -- the big trio of huge areas to demonstrate) for previous demonstrations, marches, manifestations, marches, or parades. There is simply a quiet, respectful sea of humanity up by the marching area.
When I say "by" the marching area, this is the sea of humanity I encounter when I am still something like blocks away from anywhere I might want to be: République or on the edge of Boulevard Voltaire.
When you are in a crowd this large, you can barely see anything, over the mobs of people in front of you. When I am in a crowd this large, I have my nose in somebody's armpit or, if I'm lucky and they're standing 4 inches more to the left, perhaps their shoulder blade. I'm a bit relieved that the girls are both home sick, frankly. Here are some TV screen shots to prove my point.
The New York Times seems to have drastically underestimated: Their teaser says "Forty world leaders and hundreds of thousands of people came together at the march in Paris, watched by hundreds of troops and police officers, after a series of terrorist attacks in the city." The local estimate so far is around 1.5-2 million people marching in Paris alone, with closer to 3.5 million marching around France. Authorities estimate that 300,000 people marched in Lyon alone -- and that's about a quarter of Lyon's total population.
I can tell you that there is no possible way that was "hundreds of thousands" in Paris. There were hundreds of thousands at my little intersection alone.
This may be the moment that drives home the reality that I could never be a breaking-news photojournalist. Even with my camera raised above my head shooting blindly, I still can barely get over the heads of the people in front of me. Which, in this case, is about a million Parisians. So, no, I will not edit and straighten out these photos for you. This is already more than I actually see with my own eyes while I'm there.
Keep in mind: I never get to the actual march. This is the march to get to the march. The march to get to the march is still the biggest, most crowded, most intense march I've ever been part of, or even seen.
I am Charlie. A police officer. Jewish (the three groups of people killed).

Don't touch my liberty.                    We're not afraid of bullet holes.
I am Charlie. I am against Islamophobia. For liberty, for equality, for brotherhood. "Lunatics have neither race or religion" -- family of Ahmed Mérabet (hero and slain Muslim police officer).
The republic against fanaticism.
Love is stronger than hate.
Charlie. Jewish. Christian. Muslim. FRENCH.
Sorry so blurry -- this one was racing by me, which is amazing seeing as how there was no space to move. 10 artists + 4 Jews + 3 police = Emergency. Barbarity and Antisemitism.
I see a bunch of Where's Waldo? cartoons, mostly crying, and I can't figure out why, exactly, until I learn that, in French, Where's Waldo? is called Where's Charlie? This explains the cartoon from Le Figaro, also.

The city has a feeling in the air, somewhere between mourning and solidarity, sadness and hope. It's almost tangible, and I know I'm not imagining it. Sometimes walking outside, I'll just catch a strangers' eye, and something passes between us -- this unspoken "What an atrocity. Now may peace be with you."
The march is not just big, it's also long. It takes people around 5 hours to march from the beginning at République to the end at Nation, about 3.2km (2 miles) away. There are two processions, actually -- one of the "common folk" -- led by Charlie Hebdo co-workers, family members of the victims, survivors.

The other is the dignitaries, led by a whole lot of European, African, and Middle Eastern Prime Ministers and Presidents, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hollande is not leaning in to say something -- you're seeing the back of his head as he gives a kiss on each cheek to each visiting dignitary, man or woman. He is French, after all.

Together, many of the dignitaries visit Paris' biggest synagogue, in keepahs.

The march officially starts at 3pm, which is when (foolishly, apparently) I try to go to the march. Presumably, anybody who actually got to be in the Place de la République or march before sundown must have been there hours earlier. I can tell you that at 8pm, the news reports that some of the first wave of marchers has finally reached the end, and that the streets are still full, though starting to thin out just a tad after the ending at Nation. Place de la Bastille has been opened to try to help with crowd control which, amazingly, has been totally respectful, calm, and conflict-free.

When I say there's something special in the air, I mean it somewhat literally: This is tonight's sunset. It seems a fitting end of day tribute to the march which is, for all I know, still marching on.

THE CHEESE: Roquefort Carles

Roquefort was the first cheese ever protected under French law, in 1925. Roquefort Carles is an artisanal Roquefort, a real Roquefort, made the ancient way by the family business of Maison Carles, founded by Francois Carles in 1927 and currently run by his granddaughter Delphine. Not only is the raw sheep's milk mixed by hand, even the mold is home-grown -- or cave grown, in this instance. The penicillium roqueforti (scientific name not a coincidence) is harvested from bread left to mold. It's then cut into the curds, poured into rings, and aged directly on natural oak shelves.

While Roquefort Carles is a kind of Roquefort, it's never just called Roquefort, because that could mean any old Roquefort -- including those made with pasteurized milks industrially. This, on the other hand, is one of the premium versions of a premium cheese, and the Carles family is justifiably proud of their own family secret recipe and technique. It's a marvel among Roqueforts -- creamy, tangy, sweet, salty, buttery, with little nuggets of blue cheese "candy" curds to be found. Roquefort Carles looks like it's been shot full of bullets, and the blue mold veins run deep into the cheese.


I choose this because not only does Roquefort stand as one of the great, timeless icons of French culture, the name "Carles" is a French variation of Charles and, therefore, Charlie.

The solidarity of the march and the signs everywhere is uplifting, but this whole terrorist episode -- and all the ones before, and all the ones to come -- make me so sad that even my cheese choice is blue.


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