By Abdennour Toumi
Paris, France — Paris, known world-wide as La Ville Lumière, is a name well-earned and valid, not only for its fame as a center of intellectualism since the Age of Enlightenment, but also as the seat of inspirational education for students the world over. Countless lights shine to illuminate this sparkling city at holiday time, but no where are they more apparent than along the Champs Élysées leading from the Arc de Triomphe, spreading their splendor at the Place de la Concorde.
While the glittering Eiffel Tower may rank as the first choice of visitors during the night, without a doubt the cheerful multi-ethnic faces of countless nationalities crowding the sidewalks add their value to the most beautiful Avenue in the world. The installation of thousands of lights, a colossal undertaking, requires at least two months of long hours’ work to accomplish. The display once in place is lighted from 6:00 pm to 2:00 am until January 7th.
Trees arrayed in thousands of lights along the way seem to pierce the sky like shooting stars as I find myself in Paris, the City of Lights, the Mecca for knowledge seekers, culture and art enthusiasts, and pleasure hunters as well. This is the city of “angels and demons,” where one can walk along the Seine, cross may tiny beautiful bridges and arrive at the entrance to the Champs Élysées. There the Presidential Palace is only meters away from the Avenue, and Fouquet’s Restaurant, where politics and haute cuisine meet, beckons at the corner of Georges V Avenue.
It is amazing to see so many luxuries displayed in the fashionable boutiques along the Avenue. The glowing colors in the showcase windows fill one with awe and delight, and the lights shining from the tree branches caress the minds of tourists, shoppers and make lovers melt. Everywhere the charm of the Avenue imposes itself on dreamers and viewers alike.
Walking along the Champs Élysées, I am thinking about the Arabs who read Taha Hussein, the Arab poet who pierced his blindness with a pen. For millions of us who will never meet him in person, we have the joy of knowing him through his poems and essays.
Taha Hussein, an Egyptian, is one of the most prominent writers of the Arab world. Known as the Father of Arab literature, this is a blind man who earned two doctorates from French universities. Anytime I am walking along this magic Avenue, I think about his famous saying on Paris in general: “Paris, the city of angels and demons.” Taha Hussein’s description of Paris then is still a subject of debate in Arab societies today and continues to raise the question whether Arab should favor the East or West.
In the early 20th century, Taha Hussein encountered a view expressed by a conservative religious sheikh and cited by Hussein himself: “Whoever goes to France is infidel or at least a libertine.” Reading this seemingly senseless phrase today would lend ridicule to the sheikh, because Arab shoppers are welcome in the Luis Vuitton boutiques ilk red fish in the nets of the Sephora.
At Georges V RER Station the Qatari bordeaux flag waves from the site of the Qatar General Consulate. Today the owner of the French Capital soccer team, PSG, is Nasser el-Khalifa. When one sees Arabs and witnesses their social behavior on the Avenue, it erases all the clichés from the news headlines — that Arabs worship death and have no care for this world. One might find an excuse for this view but it is only arguably true because ISO’s manpower is coming also from the suburban population, leaving the city’s “demons” for the sake of “angels” in the countryside of er-Reqq’a, Deir e-Ezzor and Ain el-Arab/Kobani in Syria!!
Paris is still the dream destination for many, its vivid image so well-known by those in all walks of life. Certainly it offers an enticing business venture for both sellers and buyers, especially the month of December which marks the most popular of holidays. Eagerly awaited, the December Market opens on November 14th, coincident with the birthday of Taha Hussein, in 1889, a century after the French Revolution.
Chalets line the Avenue from midpoint to the Place de la Concorde. A festive event, the idea originated in Germany and was later developed in the Alsace region. It is essentially a Christmas Fair, where families and visitors can sample delicious crepes, waffles, and beignets. There is a warm ambiance between visitors and retailers who offer an enticing selection of goods “made in France” and the French “terroir.”
The point is to keep enticing the mind with the prospect of such delectables and to pursue this end whatever the cost. Under the spell of the beautiful glowing lights, life seems to smile and one continues to dream.
Ironically, the view of the sheikh about France a century ago, in addition to other flagrant stories, works favorably in another context for the thousands of Arab visitors and residents in France. This outdated view still fuels the desire to travel to Paris to experience the Light of thousand lights in Paris at holiday time.
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