France and America: Why Paris Haunts Us So

It’s been several days now, the media stream moves onward, darting here and there to other news, other disasters. And yet I remain static, stuck, still mulling over the attacks on Paris, mourning the loss of all those lives, as well as the so-very-French joie de vivre.

Why does Paris haunt me, and others, so?

In the hours and days after the attacks, a surge of Internet critics rose up, chastising many of us for supposedly feeling more sorrow for Paris than for Beirut or other places filled with unimaginable horrors.

There’s a reason for that, a very human reason.

As I tried to explain in a previous post, although the pain of seeing so many people suffering around the world really affects me, there’s something about the Paris attacks that drilled down deeply into my core. No, it’s not just that I’ve traveled in France many times, lived there briefly, spent years in French-speaking former colonies, and written extensively about France on this blog.

The reason for that seemingly ostentatious outpouring of grief is because Paris, and by extension, France, contributed much to our American heritage. It feels like home, truth be told. Why?

Vast areas of the country lay under French domination beginning in 1682, until Thomas Jefferson pulled off what history books call The Louisiana Purchase in 1803. For $15 million dollars, the young United States acquired about 827,000 square miles, including the city of New Orleans and access to the Mississippi River. South Carolina took in a number of Huguenot refugees, as did Virginia, though those in South Carolina appear to have made larger contributions to the cuisine there.

To keep it simple, and for greater emphasis, I’m just going to list some of those contributions, many culinary, given that the focus of this blog falls mostly on food. Most likely you could add many, so please comment!

  1. The Statue of Liberty
  2. Wine
  3. Cheese
  4. Roux-based gumbos
  5. Pasteurization
  6. Soufflés
  7. Appetizers (hors-d’œuvre)
  8. Hollandaise sauce
  9. Mayonnaise
  10. Restaurant terminology
  11. Restaurants
  12. Omelettes
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Greens and smoked pork
  15. Biscuits (perhaps derived from galettes?)
  16. Fricassees
  17. Fritters
  18. Gratins
  19. Green salads with vinaigrette
  20. Stews
  21. Cinema
  22. Art (Mary Cassatt, etc.)
  23. Architecture (Richard Morris Hunt, Louis Sullivan, etc.)
  24.  Literature (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc.)
  25. Enlightenment, influence on formation of U.S. government
  26. Fashion
  27. Philosophy (Derrida, Foucault, etc.)
  28. Language

There’s your answer … .

© 2015 C. Bertelsen

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