Bonjour mes chers lecteurs. Well, yesterday I said that I would publish my third-round entry to the Yeah Write super challenge, so here you go! I was stunned to have actually made it to the third round, where I found myself in the top ten amongst some extraordinary writers. I feel humbled to have been included in this group! Some of them have posted their essays at this link: (click here) including two of the winners, both of whose essays brought tears to my eyes. True dragon-slayers and wonderfully gifted writers, both of them!
The assignment was to seamlessly incorporate the word “bemused.” I wrote my essay as a response to some recent events. Here it is, warts and all 😉
“Allons-y ! Let’s Go! ”
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” H. P. Lovecraft
My husband and I are going to spend several weeks in France this year, and when I tell people this, they sometimes say, “Aren’t you scared?” When I answer with an emphatic “no,” I often get bemused looks from them and they ask me if I know about the recent terrorist attacks. Of course I do, because these attacks lead the news almost every day. They awaken our “oldest and strongest fear” as they remind us just how many unknowns exist in our world.
I read in the news today that due to concerns about security, the city of Lille, France has cancelled “La Braderie de Lille,” a centuries-old annual flea market, the largest one in Europe. According to the official website, it began in the 12th century, and this is the first cancellation in 70 years. I do not envy the mayor’s decision. In light of the unexpected nature of recent attacks, she had to face the fear of the unknown on behalf of the 2.5 million visitors that come to her city each year for this market.
As for myself, I face this fear only on a personal level; I don’t have to consider 2.5 million lives, just my own. It’s a matter of risk management, which we do every day, consciously or not. I took a driving class when I was 16 which featured a cassette tape series by Richard Petty. Each tape began with a booming voice admonishing us to “EXPECT…THE UN…EXPECTED!” Then, we learned how to practice risk management while driving a car.
How exactly does all this “risk management” talk apply to going on a vacation? Unknown threats are present not only when we travel abroad, but even in our own backyards. So, what is a tourist to do?
When I travel, my main strategy is to remain aware of my surroundings. As a professional pilot, I call this “situational awareness.” Granted, it isn’t always easy to do when you are in the midst of being awed by a beautiful cathedral, delighted by a street performer, or tempted by treats at an outdoor market. However, my strategy is the same whether I am on the ground or in the air.
As a flight instructor I taught my students to always have an “out” — a place to land at any given time should something unexpected happen with their airplane or with the weather, for example. We have no right to exist several thousand feet above the ground; we do so thanks to a chunk of aerodynamic metal called an airplane. It is prudent to respect that fact. When I travel, or when I am in a large crowd, I do the same thing: I just try to always have an “out.” I don’t think this makes me paranoid, nor does it inhibit the amount of pleasure I have in traveling. As in flying, every time a new threat reveals itself, I add it to my mental library of “stuff that can happen.”
I will admit that before the attack in Nice, it never really crossed my mind that a madman would barrel through a crowd with a truck. Two years ago, we went to a huge parade in Lyon with thousands of people. If an attack of this nature had occurred while we were there, we would have had no place to go. In light of this knowledge, would I decline to go to a large outdoor festival? No, but I might change my position in the crowd, possibly accepting a lesser view of the event. Since 9/11, I have added many previously mundane things to my internal list of “possible threats.” Trucks are now on that list. Nonetheless, I absolutely refuse to give in to fear and stop living because of what I read on the news.
Having said that, are there places in the world I’d be afraid to visit? Of course! There is a line that we each need to draw on our own maps between “acceptable risk” and “that’s downright stupid.” The US Department of Homeland Security has a website with travel warnings, which is a good place to go for information. They also have short term travel “alerts” which mainly concern large outdoor events and give some good common sense advice on how to remain safe if you do go to these events.
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” — Helen Keller
I might add to Helen Keller’s words by saying that the bold probably live fuller lives. It’s true that many festivals and events have been scaled down or cancelled in France this year, and I think those are prudent decisions. However, it seems to me that the French people themselves are carrying on with the same determined spirit as they have done for centuries. Despite everything that has happened, “La France est toujours la France.” There are many tourists who have cancelled their travel plans, and the scaling back of the larger events is having economic impacts on business owners who cater to the tourist industry. This makes me even more determined to visit, to support those people.
I am going to enjoy my coffee and croissant “à la terrasse.” I am going to stroll along the Seine at sunset. I am going to visit the WWII memorial in Normandy and pay tribute to those who lost their lives fighting for the freedoms we enjoy every day. Terrorists by definition want to terrify us. If we are terrified, if we lock ourselves up and surround ourselves with fences and defensive weapons, then they have succeeded. So am I afraid to travel to France? Mais non! Allons-y !