Paris- It was an extraordinarily busy week in the French capital to say the least. Before heading back to Aeroport Charles de Gaulle, I managed to make a mad dash to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop on the Seine whose owner George Whitman died a couple of days before. I read the US Embassy’s Twitter feed of Ambassador Rivkin mentioning it and decided a visit to the legendary store was worth my last few hours in the city of lights. I didn’t have much time to loiter as I would have liked but picked up a Arundhati Roy’s fantastic, impassioned new book on one of my absolute favorite subjects, the Maoist war in central India. In my sleepless stupor I tore into Walking with the Comrades on the flight home and it did not disappoint. I only wish I could have written it myself. Roy writes about the Maoist issue with the same vigor as her outstanding work on Kashmir.
I decided to make one more rushed walk along the right bank to head back to the hotel to pick up my bags. After passing by the Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, I happened upon this magnificent victory fountain commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his campaign against Mamluk forces during the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798. In what I suppose must have been typical Bonapartist fashion, the column emulated elements of Imperial Rome, fitting I guess as the rather delusional Messr. Bonaparte saw himself a latter day emperor at the time. The Sphinx heads basked in a cold winter light as the sun moved across the Parisen sky on one of the shortest days of the year.
As I hustled along the river in the brisk afternoon sun, I saw what seemed like countless Roma (Gypsy) kids pulling this scam that a gal I met in Santorini had warned me about where they mark tourists pretending to be deaf/mute while aggressively hassling them for cash playing on Western notions of guilt. Apparently there is nothing the Paris police or courts are willing to do about it as the Roma all appear to be under 18 despite the damage it does to tourism. I either didn’t have the look of such a whale or I was walking to hard for them to pay me any mind.
A fitting end to my stay was a cool (!) taxi driver who was playing American jazz on the radio as I quietly exited the city after an incredibly hectic, fascinating week. Waiting in the American Airlines departure lounge, I overheard the conversations of American university exchange students who were all excitedly heading home for Christmas after a rollicking semester abroad that apparently included a class trip to Morocco where they slept on dunes in the Sahara and experimented with drugs for the first time. Generation Facebook crowded into the airport in Uggz boots carrying iPads and yet still found things to complain about. It kind of surprises me that there are families that in this day can still afford to send their kids off to one of the world’s most expensive cities en masse to study (read: party) for months on end especially considering how nonsensically weak the dollar still is against the euro. Either the middle class is actually in better shape than I thought or perhaps they are part of the dreaded “1%.”
Although my work on this trip entirely concerned the future of the Muslim world and the West’s relationship with both the newly post- and present-tense revolutionary Arab states, I was also consumed with the future of the European Union and the eurozone. Much of the lunch and dinner conversation revolved around the troubled future of the so-called European project and the Franc0-German alliance/relationship. As someone who has always advocated for both continued EU enlargement as well as the steadied (but calculated!!) enlargement of the eurozone, much of what was said over the course of the last week was downright depressing. Has the enlargement of both the EU and the euro currency area been reckless economic adventurism? I hope not but I may be wrong which is immensely disappointing. The unity of the West is so important for a number of reasons not least of which because many believe, myself included that the “rise of the rest” is a de facto defeat for the hoped-for primacy of human rights in the world. I definitely am already well fatigued by the tiresome rise of China/maybe-authoritariansim-isn’t-really-so-bad-after-all talk. Yes, maybe it was a disastrous idea for Greece to have joined the euro (which I said at the time) but it is too late to go back now. 2012 will be a key year for the future of political Europe as the EU is often referred to in think-tank circles. A strong, united Europe is key to the struggle against neoconservatism which is seems to be having some level of resurgence here in the US and in the isolationist/nationalist/anti-immigrationist quarters of the EU’s differing electorates. I’m still holding out plenty of hope.
Oh and to the kids I met on Rue Mouffetard who took me to the electro dubstep party on Le Batofar, thanks! It is nights like that why I fell in love with the EU in the first place and why I will always return.
Paris- Took a long, brisk walk around the 5th arrondissement tonight after another red eye transatlantic trip leaving me in a daze. After a falafel and a Delirium Tremens, I got lost on my way back to Hotel le Demeure and stumbled upon the Moroccan-Algerian styled Grande Mosquée de Paris on a quiet backstreet at midnight which made for an ill-focused Blackberry snapshot. Upon a brief Google, the mosque is much older than I would have thought and rather than being a post-war structure, it is in fact a post-Great War construction dating back to the roaring twenties. Sometimes it’s good to lose one’s way.
New York- Taking off from the Big Apple in a couple of hours to head to Paris on behalf of the State Department on a three-day speaking tour. My first event will be held at L’Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire (IRSEM) on 14 December at 14:30 talking about the effects of the Libyan war on the broader Mediterranean geopolitical spectrum. I’ll then be appearing on France24, one of the EU’s principal news networks on 15 December at 11:00. I will then be speaking at Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) on 16 December from 09:00-11:00 on U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. My last stop will be at Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) at 14:30 also on 16 December.
Paris & Athens- Firstly I want to thank Jean-Luc Marret and the staff of his Fondation de la Recherche Stratégique for hosting me and allowing me to speak at their global terrorsim conference yesterday. The title of my talk was Western Boots on Eastern Ground: A Comparative History of Western Intervention in the Muslim World in the Post-911 Decade (Which I may very well transform into an upcoming article). My only regret is that I had virtually no time to enjoy the city on my sleepless, croissant fueled whirlwind. I was happy to be part of the trans-Atlantic political continuum if only for a moment in time.
I left a gleaming, well functioning Paris this morning, full of shimmering life and bustling with tourists to arrive in a sullen, deserted Athens. I found out upon arrival at the nearly empty airport that the Greek capital is bracing for yet another paralyzing transport strike to show union and neo-Communist displeasure at the austerity measure being imposed on them by the Papandreou government. It was told that if I had flown in tomorrow rather than tonight it would not have been possible for me to reach to port of Piraeus-where I am holed up in a budget hotel for the night to catch the morning ferry to Santorini-except if I had hitchhiked. The few locals I was able to talk said this next day of direct action is meek compared to others earlier this year where the port was blockaded and tourists were apparently prevented from reaching their intended ferries by burly union types. I was assured that ferries will be running despite the possibility that most of Athens proper will reach a tense standstill rather quickly. But I have left my big DSLR behind on this trip in order to take away the temptation that is always there to jump into the fray (though I do have one hell of a point and shoot should the mood strike). Heading to Santorini at the outset of its long, quiet (I think?) off season to get my nose to the grindstone on some long overdue long form writing.
Paris- I will be speaking at Maison de la Chimie tomorrow for the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique’s conference entitled “Dix ans après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001: bilan et perspectives de la lutte contre le terrorisme.” I will be speaking about my experiences and analyses of several Western military interventions throughout the post-9/11 decade, their successes and failures, and where we head next. Although it is an incredibly vast topic, I will somehow try and keep it concise and based on my own on the ground observations rather than something derivative and wonky.