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Balancing Safety And Celebration On The Streets Of France

NPR's Scott Simon and his family enjoyed the Bastille Day fireworks in Deauville, France.
Scott Simon
NPR's Scott Simon and his family enjoyed the Bastille Day fireworks in Deauville, France.

As what President Francois Hollande has described as "this unspeakable act" was probably underway in Nice, my family and I were enjoying the same kind of Bastille Day festivities in Deauville, Normandy.

The fireworks along the beach were spectacular, streaking the sky with stripes of red and blue and starbursts of bright, white light.

Bastille Day is France's national holiday. It's just not the birth of the French Republic, but the start of summer, with long family meals and late night strolls, which the French believe in as a constitutional right. Every big town and small village in France has these ceremonies.

Many of the people in our town had gathered in the town square. A British regimental band, Brexit-be-damned, played oompah-pah music while people lit candles in paper lanterns as the sky darkened and the gaggle of happy families and fired-up teenagers set out to march through the town to the beach.

But in these times, after so many acts of terror, no public gathering in France—from the Euro-Cup tournament to a beach-town parade—can be carefree. We've seen terror and bloodshed strike in a moment.

You don't want to be silly; but you also don't want to be stupid. Especially when you hold on to the hand of a child.

But you also don't want anxieties to make you scared to do what you cherish. So we walked through town. We looked up at people who looked on from their balconies, including a man in a bathrobe, and sometimes waved, and also saw French security forces on roofs. They don't wave.

When we got to the beach, the fireworks began. At one point, a couple of sullen, unsmiling kids began to push their way through the crowd just in front of us. My wife and I confessed later that we'd each thought of the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon. The fireworks show was glorious. But we were glad to hear the last pop from the sky, and see the last, glowing ash drift down.

As the crowd began to walk back over the promenade that runs along the beach in Deauville, you could hear beeps and trills from cell-phones — alerts from the BBC or Le Monde about the truck attack along the promenade in Nice.

It is probably impossible for anyone in France not to feel that it could have been their town, their family, their friends, which I suppose is the point of terror. A parent has to weigh the risk that something terrible could happen against the risk of raising children in fear.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.