Since arriving in France Saturday morning, I’ve taken to explore the actual roads of Paris, stealing a few hours to roam the streets of this immense, gray city with its sky of beaten pewter, its imposing architecture, its streets full of pedestrians and lovers, its bright cafes full of conversation, its cheerful patisseries full of delicious temptations. The city of Paris exists within a thoroughly humanized landscape, full of beauty borne of human creativity and imagination. Everywhere colorful lights set the city aglow, and ornate, imposing figures adorn museums and bridges and cathedrals.
But nature is scarce in the city, and all vestiges of wildness subdued. I have identified only a few species of birds who have made their homes here – Carrion Crows, Black-headed Gulls, and Rock Doves – avian representatives that thrive in transformed, urban ecosystems. The city’s arterial gray-green Seine is tamed, confined for centuries to flow between ramparts of stone. The gentle sounds of rainfall, the rustling of wind in the green-gold leaves of the liquidambar trees (native to the southeastern U.S. and my home state of Texas) are barely audible above the incessant rushing of traffic and singsong cry of police sirens. Walking through the city, I’ve wound my way past corridors of imposing buildings that confine the wanderer within a network of canyons, an immense labyrinth without a view to a hill or a star by which to navigate.
Yesterday, she walked to the Place de la République to greet the gray Paris dawn with a group of indigenous representatives from the Americas. All about the plaza, thousands of pairs of shoes, including those of Pope Francis, were laid out in a massive instillation. The shoes represent the thousands who wished to march in Paris for climate justice in solidarity with citizens across the globe, but who had been prevented from doing so due to the decision by French authorities to ban the march. Later in the morning more than ten thousand people formed a human chain along the intended route of the march. The chain was broken in one part – marking an empty space in remembrance for the more than one hundred innocent victims killed in the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris just over two weeks ago. The shoes marched in silence, not far from the monument at the center of the Place de la République, where thousands of votives and flowers and other offerings were placed in an impromptu memorial in the days following the terrorist attacks.
Standing atop the monument, the statue of Marianne, an allegory of liberty and reason, gazes out across all the colorful candles and flowers and shoes – small offerings of hope for a just and peaceful world, offerings for what is hoped for and for what has been loved and lost. In her right hand, Marianne holds high an olive branch, and in her left she bears a tablet inscribed with the Droits de l'Homme—the Rights of Man.