I've been in Paris this week for a wonderful conference at the University of Paris-Nanterre. It's my third visit to Paris, separated by twenty years from my second (a short visit during my honeymoon) and twenty-four from my first (a month here during a year I spent wandering through Europe after college).
One of the books I brought to read was a journal I kept during my first visit. According to the journal, I arrived with only 20 British pounds and no job. I did, however, have Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which enthused about being young, poor, and happy in Paris.
I expected to be constantly questioned about Barack Obama this week, but he's come up less often than I would have thought. To be sure, the bookstores prominently display books about his election with titles like La Victoire Historique and Les Secrets dùne Victoire. But there's been surprisingly little quizzing about him, which has made me wonder if we`ve been a little too obsessed with the significance of Obama`s victory back in the US.
The economic crisis, by contrast, has come up constantly, and I find myself thinking about it at odd times. Walking down the Champs Èlysses, which is decorated with beautiful violet lights for Christmas, I wondered how much the ritzy stores (and a Peugeot showroom, where a car with gull wing doors was surrounded by tourists taking pictures) have been affected by the crisis. This morning at the Louvre, as I looked at an angel hovering above the crucified Christ in a Giotto painting, his hands covering his face in dismay, it occurred to me that I've seen that same expression on the faces of the beleaguered stock traders on the front page of the newspaper every few days this fall.
In a strange way, the crisis may do more than anything else (an exciting new president, a new foreign policy) to create a renewed sense of common, international bonds. At least if it doesn't spur a round of protectionism-- which so far, thankfully, it hasn't.