Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said (though some scholars deny he did) that “Every man has two countries--his own and France”.
I thought of that famous quotation, and found it expressed my views, when nearly a million Parisians erupted onto their streets, and marched to show their fierce support of free speech. Though France may exasperate us at times, it is always an undeniable defender of personal liberties in every conceivable area of life. And witnessing those attitudes on a trip to France is one of the great rewards of travel.
When people ask me to name my favorite city, I of course begin by naming the place where I live. But I quickly follow with the word “Paris”. A part of my reasoning is respect for the basic character of the French people, that regards the expression of beliefs to occupy such an exalted place.
Beyond that are touristic advantages that are rarely found in such quantities elsewhere. To me, the famed City of Light stands atop the very frontier of most travel subject matters: in cuisine, of course; but also in art and design, in literature and advocacy (its many newspapers and magazines are outstanding), in shopping opportunities, historical monuments (the Pantheon! the Tomb of Napoleon!), in the abundance of transportation leaving the city by high-speed rail, in motion picture production, scientific achievement (Pasteur, Curie, Claude Bernard), civic organization (see below), and countless others.
Because I have a nephew who lives in Paris, I’ve been able to experience the wonders of its municipal services firsthand. On the streets of Paris, roam ambulances available for emergencies that are staffed not simply by medical workers but by an actual doctor in each such vehicle. Phone their equivalent of “911” for a medical emergency and an actual MD will be at your side in five minutes.
My nephew’s children attend public schools where they go on free educational trips to Switzerland and the south of France, and receive excellent three-course lunches that end with cheese for dessert. The older among them attend universities free of charge. The level of their schooling would put most American counterparts to shame.
I, quite obviously, have a high regard for France. And this month’s demonstrations have served to remind me of the impressive French regard for freedom of expression and belief.
Photo credit: Luke Ma/Flickr