Friday, 25 February
There I go again, writing too soon.
No sooner had I sung the praises of February than Storm Eunice battered northern Europe with gusts of wind up to almost 200 km/h/120mph. Close to 20 people and countless trees were killed. It tore a large hole in London’s Millennium Dome, snapped a church spire and caused 9m/30ft waves to pound coasts. The planet’s rage was on full display.
A few days later, on the other side of Europe, so too was the Russian president's. Vladimir Putin, ensconced in a decor that looked borrowed from the East German Stasi Police headquarters, now a museum...
...gave a revanchist rant questioning Ukraine's right to exist as a state, demanding its fealty to Russia. He clearly had imperial restoration in mind.
Early yesterday morning I switched my phone off sleep mode and ping came the notification that the Russian bombs were falling, their tanks advancing on Ukraine.
It seemed almost indecent to carry on as usual while a neighbour was being stormed. But I went through the motions, staring at my computer, walking the dog, sitting back down at my desk and staring some more. At noon I went running in the Tuileries, where normal life also appeared to carry on. The construction of temporary buildings for yet another Fashion Week continued to intrude upon and disfigure the gardens. Minus the locked-down Chinese, tourists are back, almost en masse. The apparent insouciance of others clouded my usually mood-enhancing run.
But I may have misjudged my fellow humans because later, my piano teacher Françoise replied to my Ca va ? with “No, it’s horrible, what’s happening in Ukraine.” Ditto Théo, when he brought Tasha back from her walk in the woods with the pack. Ditto Julia, my former German teacher, on our FaceTime catch-up call. Even my usually laser-focused husband told me he’d had trouble settling down to work. I might be imagining it but the dog too looked distressed.
Today I was planning to write about a visit I made this week to the Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix's studio, one of many charming small museums in the city.
But how can I write about idle, arty outings when a geopolitical earthquake has just occurred?
A couple weeks ago I read a chilling article by Gideon Rachman in The Financial Times. He wrote that analysts in the West have tended to consider the former KGB agent as Putin the Rational. Ruthless and calculating, yes, but reasoned. Now, he said, some had come to believe that after 20 years in power and almost three of Covid, during which a paranoid Putin closed himself off from the world almost entirely, we may have a 'Vlad the Mad'. Certainly what's unfolding before us today argues for the latter interpretation. Who knows how far a man who's lost his grip on logic might go. It's terrifying.
Any problem of a global order can leave you feeling helpless. But at least with climate change, say, you can go recycle something or cancel your plans to fly to Bali. What can you do about a war?
In this morning's Le Parisien, I learned not only that there is a Ukrainian church in Paris but that it's practically next door. Over the last 40 years, I've ridden by Saint-Volodymyr-le-Grand at the corner of the rue des Saints-Pères and the boulevard Saint-Germain hundreds of times without taking note.
This afternoon, just to do something, I got on my bike. Outside a man was giving an interview; a few people looked on. Inside others dotted the humble pews.
In a gesture of solidarity, I lit a candle, added it to the others, but I can't say it made me feel any better or inspired any hope.
One thing is certain: February 2022 has lost its glow.