Yesterday, a vicious, hate-filled attack occurred in Paris, with twelve people, including police, journalists and illustrators massacred during an editorial meeting. As our morning Sprudge editorial meeting convened, none of us could tear our attention away from the news, and thoughts of how our long-time Paris Desk Anna Brones was doing. We wound up deciding not to publish yesterday, because much as we love it, sometimes there are more important things to read than coffee news.
But you cannot simply stop everything when the world goes ghastly. Sprudge is blessed to work with many incredible talents all over the globe, people who understand the power coffee has to reach across worlds, bring people together, and foster compassion. Anna Brones deeply understands these powers of coffee, and it is our honor to be able to publish the following letter from Anna, along with an illustration from contributor Thomas Putman in memory of all those slain in Paris.
A beautiful city is passing through a tragic moment.
It’s hard to know how to address the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical Parisian newspaper, on an outlet like Sprudge–or if we should even address it at all. This is after all a coffee website, and as one of its staff writers, I spend my time checking out new cafes, drinking filter coffee and interviewing baristas. In this role, I rarely challenge the status quo (except for maybe my strong dislike of Nespresso).
But I am a writer. And I live in Paris. And the last two days have been heartbreaking. And I can’t not write something.
Usually attacks on journalists happen elsewhere, far enough away that your brain can push them aside to focus on what you “should” be doing. But not this time. The reality that people could be assassinated for standing up for what they believe in was all too real.
I didn’t know what to do yesterday. I was paralysed, stuck to a computer screen refreshing news feeds, the French radio constantly on in the background. I was supposed to go and check out a newly opened cafe, and then go and interview David Nigel Flynn (another American coffee expat in Paris) at Belleville for a project I am working on. I bailed. Not out of fear but out of an inability to do anything but focus on the tragedy at hand.
This morning I woke up and thought, “what do I do now?”
I think this is a question that many are struggling with. Those of us that are not immediate friends or families of the victims, what can we best do to honor their lives, and acknowledge that a tragedy has happened? How do we move forward?
I had a lady lunch scheduled today, a semi-regular date with three other freelance friends. We always meet up for coffee and lunch at Holybelly. Today was Holybelly’s first day back in business after the holidays, and the date had been on our calendar for a couple of weeks.
We stuck to it.
I biked down to Canal Saint Martin, the rain pelting my face, soaking my jeans. Paris felt somber, and yet my usual anger and frustration felt towards pedestrians and drivers while on a bicycle was quelled. There was a sense that today the city needed love. Right before I left the house I learned that a separate shooting from this morning had resulted in yet another dead police officer. As I biked, eight blaring Gendarmerie trucks blew by me. A sense of tension hung in the air; every police siren was cause for question. Did something else just happen?
A good friend of mine who I had traveled to Afghanistan with a couple of years ago, and who works there quite regularly and knows what being in the same city where an attack happens feels like, told me this in an an email yesterday:
“The single best response is celebrate life and love and your written words. When I’m in Kabul, and even when I lived in Beirut and bad shit happened…I would take a breath and then it’s time to go to restaurants, walk the streets, essentially give a big ‘fuck you, you can’t stop me, us, everyone.’”
In other words: we must continue.
I was the first to arrive at Holybelly, Nico Alary, the co-owner, welcomed me with a big “Happy New Year!” Sarah Mouchot, the other owner, gave me her usual huge smile from the kitchen and Marie-Louise Luong, a staff member, ensured I had a filter coffee within minutes of sitting down. “How are you?” I asked, knowing how ridiculous that question sounded in a time like this. “Well, you know…”
But a city can’t shut down because of an attack. We have to live our everyday lives, and we can’t be afraid of living them. I sat at Holybelly and watched as many regular customers streamed in for lunch. Here was a cafe doing exactly what we love cafes for doing: serving as a space to congregate, a place to share, a place to discuss. It was a bright space in a moment of darkness.
I hung around Place de la République after lunch, circling the central statue, where remnants from the gathering the night before were still clear. Tea lights had gathered water in the rain, and the writing on many of the posters was streaked. Rain droplets sat on rose bouquets.
As the sun set more and more people gathered. The water in the tea lights was dumped out and the candles lit again. People brought new posters, and added new pens, markers and pencils to the pile that was an indicator of what this crowd stood for. The power of the pen will always win out over the weapon.
Place de la République filled with people of all ages and all backgrounds. I saw children and I saw old people. I heard a multitude of languages. I saw signs in French and signs in Arabic.
If there’s an immediate lesson in all of the madness, it’s that we need to stand up for what we believe in, no matter what industry we’re in. It means being fearless. You can criticize the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo for going too far in their caricatures, but as Amy Davidson so eloquently wrote in the New Yorker, “Wednesday’s crime should not cause anyone to second-guess Charlie Hebdo’s editorial decisions. Silence is not where the answers to an incident like this lie.”
Silence is never the answer, and when we ask ourselves what we can do tomorrow and the next day and the next day, it’s to continue to speak out. It’s to continue to do what we do, live our lives without fear, but also do our best so that those around us don’t have to live in fear either. We do not meet hate with hate, we meet it with compassion. We work hard to build tolerance. We create that space where all people feel safe and can congregate. Where they feel welcome and at home.
Paris feels a little grayer than usual right now, but I am so thankful for the people and the places that keep it bright, and that includes the coffee world. Let us keep building the society that we want to live in, not the one that we are afraid of.
Original illustration by Thomas Putman for Sprudge.com
All photos by Anna Brones for Sprudge.com