Two Tales of a City
The sunny Sunday morning in Paris had a festive air. Not only was it a weekend when entrance to all public buildings—museums, historic sites, palaces, government buildings—was free of charge, it was also a car-free day in central Paris, as decreed by its mayor as a gesture toward mitigating climate change and adhering to the goals of the Accord which bears the city’s name. As a result, the Champs Elysees, usually congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic, was today a pedestrian mall. Instead of engines revving and horns honking, all you hear was the quite hum of people talking! The only “motorized” vehicles were bicycles and scooters. And if merchants were worried about losing business on a car free day, I think their concerns were relieved, as the cafés and shops were buzzing with activity.
As I was walking along the Champs Elysees, enjoying this friendly, if temporary new reality, a block away from the Arc de Triomphe a phalanx of police seemed to appear out of nowhere. The quickly cordoned off a wide perimeter around the George V café, politely but firmly ordering pedestrians to detour around the block. It was later reported that there had been a bomb scare or threat—I’m not sure which—that was ultimately determined to be a false alarm.
On one hand, we have the hope and optimism that we have the technology and determination to deal with looming catastrophe of climate change. On the other, we have hurricanes, floods, droughts, and fires that increase in intensity as, year after year, the earth’s temperature continues to warm.
One one hand, we have humanity’s resiliency, that perseveres unbowed in the face of terrorism. On the other hand, we have a world whose political destabilization matches the climate’s.
What have we learned since 9-11? Or more to the point, what haven’t we learned? We haven’t learned that no matter how many terrorists you kill, you can’t terrorism because terrorism is rooted in an idea and you can’t shoot an idea. But trying to understand the roots of terrorism—whether by Middle Easterners purporting to represent Islam or white supremacists purporting to represent Christianity—is considered a weakness and will ensure you won’t get reelected. So we choose to shoot or incarcerate rather than to understand. I ask, where has that gotten us in the past seventeen years?
The same with climate change, which ostensibly should be a scientific issue. But one’s opinion of it is determined not by data, but by whether you represent a red or a blue district. The earth couldn’t care less what we think. It will do what it will do. We’re capable of helping move things in one direction or another, but it remains to be seen how long we will continue to turn a blind eye to the causes of the catastrophes of Florences and wildfires on our coasts before we take concerted action.
The two main works of the current Boston Symphony tour are the Mahler Symphony No. 3, which ends in joy and triumph, and the Shostakovich Symphony No. 4, which ends in fear and despair. In a way that dichotomy is a reflection of Paris this morning and, more broadly, the world we currently live in. It’s up to all of us to determine which ending we want to hear.
For less weighty issues, MISTER E’S MYSTERIES will surely entertain you!