When we were in Paris a year ago, we went to bistros. We noticed how, although they were glad for our patronage, it was their regular neighborhood customers that really counted. As the evening waxed late, le patron came out and sat at the table with his regulars. La patronne lavished attention upon them and asked about their children. This is France. This is Paris. This is humanity in its richness.
I was therefore touched when I read this:
Worried about a drop in customers, a trade union of hotels and restaurants is calling on Parisians to head to their neighborhood haunts Tuesday night to observe a minute of silence for the victims and then to support local merchants with a campaign called “Tous au Bistrot!” — meaning “everybody to the bistro!”
In this world of commerce, which the French are involved with just like everybody else, this is a note of authenticity. I seem to remember that soon after 9/11 President Bush (43) advised us to “go shopping.” Not that the Parisians aren’t shoppers, not that the bistrot owners don’t have to make a good living, but isn’t there something about “Tous au bistrot!” that speaks of a culture of humane values that trumps commerce?
And in that context, perhaps we should remember and honor the code of hospitality that distinguishes the Middle Eastern cultures. I just saw a movie in Arabic with subtitles, called Theeb. It’s absorbing in every way — plot, suspense, action, staggering scenery, Bedouins, camels, and a wonderful child actor — but my point in mentioning it is its close-up depiction of desert hospitality. There seemed to be zero degrees of separation from Abraham entertaining angels three thousand years ago.