Wall of Love

Where once there was terror, now there is love. A whole wall of it.


“You read the prospectuses, the catalogues, the posters that sing out loud. Here’s poetry this morning and for prose there are newspapers.”

When her neighborhood was hit by terrorists on November 13, like most local residents, artisan jeweler Diana Kami didn’t know what to do.

She told my colleague at France 24 that she dropped her daughter off at school on the Monday after the attacks and found herself instintively decorating the school’s outside wall, which stretches for a block along rue Alibert just steps from  Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge, where many people died that terrible night.

Several other mothers noticed and asked the local government for permission to cover the whole wall, now nicknamed the “Mur de l’Amour,” with inspirational murals. They even raised 500 euros to cover the cost of paint.

Since then, street and graffiti artists have flocked to rue Alibert to make their own contributions. Here’s what Dani saw there.


Liberty and equality, snakes, hearts and airplanes



The weapon of peace is the wall of love.


Rue Alibert, across from St. Louis hospital, looking towards the intersection with rue Bichat and Le Carillon.


‘Hugs against barbarism’

Like many Parisians, I had a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the aftermath of the November 13 terror attacks. After having been anchored to the desk at France 24 all afternoon and most of that Friday night while the horrific details emerged, I managed to fall asleep about 8 a.m. Saturday and spent that afternoon and evening hiding from the world, checking in with friends, gorging myself sick with news radio and internet updates. By Sunday afternoon, my dog and I needed to rejoin the world, and the sun came out to encourage us. I arranged to meet a friend and we started walking, not realizing until we’d crossed Bastille that our inner GPS was guiding us north to the Bataclan. Heading up Boulevard Richard Lenoir, we stopped to read the chalk inscriptions on the pavement not far from the Charlie Hebdo offices that were targeted by terrorists the previous January. It was reassuring to see so many people on the streets after 36 hours in which life as we knew it had come to a halt. Parisians were sad and subdued, yet children and dogs played along the asphalt normally occupied by the farmers’ market, which had been cancelled. The mood was a mixture of defiant, reflective and shaken.


“Paris, back on your feet!” and “Paris, wake up!”

Moving north, we soon found ourselves milling about with hundreds of others who’d gathered quietly in front of the concert hall to pay their respects, lighting candles and leaving flowers, notes and letters for the 89 people who died there.

After stopping at dozens of makeshift memorials, at Wei and I wound up at Place de la République. Although public gatherings were forbidden under the state of emergency, we didn’t plan to stay long. I had been asked to file a story, but what more could I say? Like so many others, I was still in shock and after being outside for a couple of hours, wanted nothing more but to slink home and crawl under my couette.

Until I saw two young guys smiling and stretching their arms out to strangers near the Marianne statue at the center of the plaza. Jérôme Calvini, 26, a student at SciencesPo, told me that the idea came to him on Saturday morning after a sleepless night. “In these dark times, we need to give each other love and show that we’re united,” he said. “It’s kind of like, ‘hugs against barbarism’.”


So that love triumphs

On Saturday November 14, Calvini started a hug circle in front of the Hôtel de Ville, but told me he preferred the symbolism of Sunday’s informal gathering at République: “I’m trying to show that we’re still alive, that life goes on.”

His friend Cédric Vergez, a banker, said he’d been so depressed he’d barely slept since he heard the bad news on Friday night. But then he got a call from his friend Jérôme. “Today I decided I’d rather act than give in to sadness and anger,” said Vergez. I’ve got to admit, being out here puts me in top form after everything that’s happened.”

As we were chatting, passers-by occasionally interrupted to request a hug from one or both of the men, and were rewarded with instant gratification. “I really needed that,” said one woman, smiling. Calvini hugged one man tight and kissed him on both cheeks, moving him to tears.

“Thank you,” he said, wiping his eyes before moving off into the crowd.

“The first 50 or so hugs, yesterday – I cried, too,” Calvini said. “I’m an emotional sponge and yesterday was just so heavy. But today, we’re laughing and crying at the same time.”

Vergez agreed. “I think this is what we have to do as a civil society – show that we are human, that we are love.”

Turning to provide a double hug to a couple who were tearing up, Calvini added: “And we have to show the terrorists that our difference is a facade.”

At the centre of the hug circle, it was easy to imagine that the world envisioned by John Lennon might just be possible.


[I ended up filing a more journalistic version of this story here. I plan to call Jérôme Calvini pretty soon to wish him a bonne année and see if I can get just one more hug for good measure.]


Bonjour, solidarity!

I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions, and I may also be the only one I know who has never managed to commit to blog keeping. But the year we’ve just bid farewell, marked by so much suffering, feels like a call to action for so many of us. Globalized society is facing a brick wall. 2015 sent a clear message: “Change now or remain in a spiral of fear and disillusion.”

The bad news is that no one is coming to save us. The good news is that all we have to do is wake up, dismantle the walls between us, and commit to true evolution. Politicians and the power-hungry are not likely to uncover the exit strategy. But maybe by turning our backs on old standbys such as apathy and cynicism, we can feel our own way out.

About a month after the November 13 terror attacks in the city both of us adopted more than a decade ago, Danielle and I were fortunate to attend a talk by author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson, just around the corner from the café terraces where so many innocents died. Williamson began by evoking the September 11 attacks in my hometown: “When the heart breaks, it also expands, and miracles can happen.” Anyone living in New York in autumn 2001 remembers the feeling of immense possibility and hope that followed the horror, grief and mourning; the sense that we as a people could choose to respond to tragedy with thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit instead of anger, blame and more violence. As a city, I believe we did. But we made the mistake of believing that geopolitics were beyond our scope, and fateful decisions were made that brought us yet more war and senseless death.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same), wrote French critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in 1849. It’s natural to rely on old proverbs to try to make sense of savage, inexplicable acts and events: human trafficking, drowned Syrian babies washing up on Mediterranean shores, rampant racism on the streets of America. All part of the tragic human tapestry, yet somehow, we seem to imply, inevitable. What if we refused to accept that this were so?

William Butler Yeats was describing post-WWI Europe when he wrote The Second Coming, yet he may has well have been talking about Raqqa, Kabul, Bamako, Paris, Mosul, Beirut or San Bernadino:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity. 

The best among us eschew hate and yet we mostly manage to love only half-heartedly, or to love only certain people some of the time. If we decide to adopt devotion to solidarity with the same passion politicians use to sow division and terrorists to spread hatred, 2016 could be the year an advanced civilization based on égalité, fraternité and liberté for all finally comes into being.

They want to kill the human being in us but all they've done is reinforce our humanity

“They want to kill the human being in us but all they’ve done is reinforce our humanity.”

In an essay for The Nation’s 150th anniversary issue last spring, Toni Morrison wrote:

“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”

Inspired by this belief, we attempt to bring you one act of gratitude, generosity or solidarity—sometimes all three—every day of 2016. Dani’s photos will be accompanied by a few of my words and sometimes vice versa. We both believe that the places we elect to give our attention become bigger and stronger; things we think about become what we are.

The world has always been a complicated place. We hope that by focusing on these simple acts of beauty, we might be able to make it feel a little bit less so.

Christine Buckley and Danielle Voirin

1 January, 2016

Paris, France

(Version française traduit par Céline Curiol)

Je n’ai jamais été vraiment en faveur des résolutions du nouvel An et je suis peut-être la seule personne que je connaisse qui n’ait jamais réussi à tenir un blog. Mais l’année qui vient de prendre fin fut si douloureuse qu’elle a donné à nombre d’entre nous le sentiment de devoir agir. La société mondialisée est face à un mur. Le message de l’année 2015 fut clair : “Le changemet maintenant ou le cercle vicieux de la peur et de la désillusion.”

La mauvaise nouvelle est que personne ne va venir nous sauver. La bonne nouvelle est que nous pouvons tous nous réveiller, faire tomber les murs qui nous séparent et nous engager à évoluer pour de bon. Il y a peu de chances que les politiciens et les personnes avides de pouvoir fassent le travail à notre place. Mais peut-être en refusant nos vieilles astuces tels que l’apathie et le cynisme, pourrons-nous trouver nous-même un moyen de nous en sortir.

Un mois environ après les attaques terroristes du 13 novembre dans la ville qui est devenue la nôtre, Danielle et moi avons eu la chance d’assister à la conférence de l’auteure et guide spirituelle Marianne Williamson, non loin des terrasses de cafés où tant d’innocents avaient été tués. Williamson commença par évoquer les attaques du 11 septembre dans ma ville d’origine : “Lorsque le coeur se brise, il grandit aussi et des miracles peuvent alors se produire”. Toute personne ayant vécu à New-York à l’automne 2001 se souviendra du sentiment d’espoir et de possibilités multiples qui fut éprouvé après la souffrance et le deuil, l’impression que nous pouvions, en tant que peuple, choisir de répondre à la tragédie par la réflexion et la générosité d’esprit au lieu d’aller vers la colère, la haine et plus de violence. A l’échelle de New-York, je pense que c’est ce que nous avons fait. Mais nous avons fait l’erreur de croire que la géopolitique était au-delà de notre portée et des décisions irréversibles ont été prises qui ont alimenté de nouvelles guerres et provoqué d’autres morts incensées.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, écrivit le critique français Alphonse Karr en 1849. Il est normal d’avoir recours à de vieux proverbes pour tenter de donner sens à des actes et des événements barbares et inexplicables : le trafic des êtres humains, des bébés syriens morts noyés se retrouvant sur les plages de la Méditerranée, un racisme omniprésent à travers les Etats-Unis. Tous font partie du patchwork de la tragédie humaine et pourtant nous semblons les considérer comme inévitables. Que se passerait-il si nous refusions d’accepter qu’il en soit ainsi ?

Dans La Seconde venue, William Butler Yeats décrivait l’Europe après la Seconde Guerre mondiale, mais sa description pourrait être celle de Rakka, Kaboul, Bamako, Paris, Mossoul, Beyrouth ou San Bernardino :

Tout se disloque. Le centre ne peut tenir.
L’anarchie se déchaîne sur le monde
Comme une mer noircie de sang : partout
On noie les saints élans de l’innocence.
Les meilleurs ne croient plus à rien, les pires
Se gonflent de l’ardeur des passions mauvaises.

Les meilleurs parmi nous s’affranchissent de la haine et néanmoins, nous n’aimons souvent qu’à moitié ou n’aimons que certaines personnes à certains moments. Si nous décidions de nous dévouer à la solidarité avec la même ferveur qu’utilisent les politiciens pour créer des divisions ou les terroristes pour propager la violence, une civilisation développée, fondée sur l’égalité, la fraternité et la liberté, pourrait enfin voir vraiment le jour en 2016.

Dans un essai rédigé à l’occasion du 150ème anniversaire de la revue The Nation, Toni Morrison écrivit :

“Je sais que le monde est plein de bleus et de bosses, et bien qu’il soit important de ne pas ignorer sa souffrance, il est aussi essentiel de refuser de céder à la malveillance. Tout comme l’échec, le chaos est source d’informations qui peuvent produire la connaissance – la sagesse même. Tout comme l’art.”

Inspirées pas ces propos, nous voulons vous montrer un acte de gratitude, de générosité ou de solidarité – parfois les trois – chaque jour de l’année 2016. Les photos de Dani seront accompagnées par mes mots ou parfois l’inverse. Nous croyons toutes les deux que les endroits où nous portons notre attention deviennent plus vastes et plus solides. Les choses auxquelles nous pensons deviennent ce que nous sommes.

Le monde n’a jamais cessé d’être complexe. Nous espérons qu’en nous concentrant sur ces actes simples et touchants, nous pourrons peut-être le rendre un peu moins difficile.

Christine Buckley et Danielle Voirin

Extrait de La Seconde venue (The Second Coming, 1919) de Yeats traduit par Yves Bonnefoy ©Anthologie bilingue de la poésie anglaise, La Pléiade, 2005