Friday, July 08, 2005

Email from London

A friend emails:

The strange thing about these events is that while they affect a relatively small number of people directly, they leave the rest of us trying to make sense of them from a distance. I was watching CNN last night and noticed that the coverage was pulling at the heart strings – not a bad thing, but I just wanted to give you a sense of how it is from here, which is that is a bit unreal, very sad, and pretty much like watching news about bombings in some other city. Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk in our neighborhood and while one woman I saw in a cafĂ© had clearly had been in one of the tube stations – she had a bandage on one hand and was flushed and shaken - everyone else seemed perfectly normal. There were an extraordinary number of people on the street in suits, but that was just because public transportation was completely shut down so people were walking. I kept my ears out as I passed groups talking among themselves and individuals talking on their cell phones, expecting them to be recounting terrible moments, but I didn’t hear the bombings mentioned at all. Not once. Granted, we are a good 20 minute walk from even the closest bomb site, but, still.

As far as I can tell from here, London emergency services and transport were just as calm and prepared as the news reports are saying. I don’t know if you’ve seen any interviews with victims, but I have been extremely impressed by them, too. All are sad of course; some are very shocked; most seemed to be extremely calm and reflective, and I’ve seen no signs of hysteria on the street or on the local news. We’ll see what the coming days hold. Probably a lot of hard work by investigators and clean up crews, grieving, processing, mourning.

I was living in Paris in the summer of 1995 when there were a series of bombings over a couple of months, some planted in the metro and others in garbage bins. Over the series of five or six bombings lot of people got killed and hurt -- about 100 killed and 2000 injured in all, as I recall. But on a personal level, the odd thing was that the whole thing felt weirdly thrilling. The presence of soldiers with Uzis in the subway cars had a weird way of making me feel more connected to the material world, to the immediate, and made the horrid things happening on TV in Bosnia a couple hundred miles away seem more real and understandable (though of course, I knew this was a gross conceit on my part). My point? I don't know, it's just that human psychology reacts in unexpected ways to these sorts of events when they happen in your immediate environs.

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