While making my video tribute to the courage of France’s Blue Revolution movement, I came across a particular photo from the interminable car-nage plaguing France each and every evening. (Just because it’s not in the news doesn’t mean it has stopped; like mugging and burglary, car-burning has risen to the level of "un-newsworthy news")
This photo haunts me; I find myself continually going back to it to stare, thinking about it so often, that after last night I thought I should organize my emotions into a more intellectual pattern through a post.
While the fiery car is meant to be the focal point of the photograph, I can’t help being fixated on the shadowy figures in the window, looking out at the flames below. How I wish for a thought balloon to be visible above their heads, allowing me access to their honest reaction to the scene below.
The single question that consumes me as suredly as that automobile engulfed in flames: What are these people thinking?
What did they see, how much did they see, beyond the fireman doing his job at the moment the photograph was taken? Were they up there, watching the human debris who set fire to the car in the first place? Did they call the firefighters to the rescue, do they always call them or do they wait, hoping that others will take that initiative for them? Is it their car that is on fire in the street below? Was it their children who actually set the car alight, and are they looking on in shame, or delight?
Is the danger so great, might these witnesses be so isolated within their community, that they feel they must reamin lurking in the window, rather than race down to the street to pitch in and do something? Or, do they feel it’s none of their business, and their role as citizens of a modern nation is to only watch, on the outside of life looking in, even as they are on the inside of their homes looking out? Do they find it virtuous to glance at this act of barbarity in a casual manner, as if the drama below them was just another adventure on their television set? As the photographer captures his photo, are these shadows in the window poised to "change the channel" and go back to other activities inside their rooms?
How many citizens, not just in France but throughout our world, are looking out of windows at the nightmare at their doorstep, feel that they are too few to make a difference, and remain in hiding behind the curtains? How many people have even reached the point where they dare look out the window to see what is causing the disturbance in the street below… do most just resolutely turn the volume on the stereo that much louder, to drown out the folly that their leaders have made of their nation’s modern state, not to mention the folly that they themselves may have contributed to? Do they surf the net seeking parallel worlds that are much more pleasant, in order to more effectively ignore the one collapsing in the streets below?
I look and look at the photo, and wonder these things and more. Of course the photo itself offers no help at all, in satisfying my curiosity. Each time I stare I emerge more curious, to the point where it invades my dreams, waking me in the night. I look out my own window, and seeing only a calm blanket of snow on the cars parked snugly on our street, it’s easy to climb back into a warm bed and eventual slumber. But for how long? Will the day soon be here, when it won’t be dreams of fiery cars and enflamed youth, but flesh and blood phantoms wrecking their destruction down my street, every street. Or are we all dreaming to worry about such things?
I won’t find the answer by myself. No one photo or article or book or news channel can answer that, either.
I have to meet these people in these windows, have them get to know me, trust me when I say my curiosity is genuine, so that they can indeed explain what they sincerely do think. Maybe it takes my question to get them to realize they think some thing in the first place. I don’t know. I won’t know, if I too stay in my room looking out the window. I need to meet my neighbors, I need to talk to these strangers, I need to test my assumptions. I need to act, to take a leap of faith and risk dis-illusioning myself in order to arrive that much closer to the truth.
Throughout France, in Paris, Lille, Lyons, Marseilles, Toulouse, citizens who used to just look out of windows are going into the street, meeting each other and comparing notes on what they see, and what can and should be done about it. They meet and wonder how many others might there be who also see what they saw through windows of their own? How did a modern nation state become so plagued with attacks upon its modernity, who has let this happen, what is being done to stop it, what is it that even can be done?
The firefighter in the street may have an answer or two… but he’s occupied at the moment, his hands full with his job. The people in the windows have to pick up the slack.
In Vancouver we stare out our windows to the world, and we descend into the street to meet and talk about what we see. We meet in the Atrium of the Central Vancouver Public Library every Thursday from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.