July 19, 1950. Australian journalist Helen Seager, who wrote a column in the women’s pages of The Argus ‘Good Morning Ma’am’, was in Paris. The newspaper sent her abroad and her task was to write each day and file her report about her travels. The article on July 19 starts:
Paris Ma’am is a magical city. I will never cease to be grateful that I arrived on a day when every thing went wrong, and watched it blossom before my eyes into a gayness that makes our Melbourne Cup gala seem funeral in comparison.
Today is July 14.
All places of business are closed for five days and only the places of amusement await the world.
Parisians are tireless in their celebrations.
I went to sleep to the music of bands, dancing feet and singing voices, with the raucous but cheerful toots from motors splitting the night air onto atoms (Seager 1950: 3).
Seager travelled with her eyes wide open. She filed stories about the people she met, the places she visited, the food she ate, along with many incidental tales of the things that happened to her as she travelled in Britain and France. Her article the day before on the 18th of July helps to make sense of this one. It was all about arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport and finding that her travel companion’s passport had expired.
This article, about Bastille Day in Paris, full of its exuberant enthusiasm, has a resounding sadness to it as I read it now, a week after Nice and a day after Munich. Seager writes joyfully about sirens screaming overhead, everyone in the street, looking from windows. How easily those scenes of celebration are could be changed into scenes of carnage. The cheerful toots of the motors transformed into cries of fear, the sirens in the sky from aeroplanes overhead into the sirens from ambulances and police vehicles, as a motor ripped through crowds of people celebrating the storming of the Bastille in 1789.
Seager talks about the French people. ‘What I love about these Parisians is their ability to rejoice, especially at this time and age when the average native is not far from the breadline and the rich tourists swarm the country like a plague of ants.’
There is a message here for all of us as we ponder a greatly changed world.