There are elements of a fairy story, as the Mayor of Paris noted, in the marriage the other day of my grand-daughter Maisie Dubosarsky to Simon Fieschi, one of the survivors of the January massacre at the French satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo. The themes of true love surviving an horrible ordeal and triumphing over evil monsters are present and irresistible in both. The Mayor was speaking at the marriage – at once solemn and noisy-which she conducted in her brilliant French tricolor sash on the brilliant late spring morning of Saturday 26 September.At the end of her eloquent discours, she read aloud the marriage clauses of the French Civil Code. Then, as we all stood, she declared Simon and Maisie man and wife. Immediately the large, cosmopolitan crowd of over 100 family and friends exploded in applause, cheers, yells and whistles. They had come from all over – from Australia, France, Argentina, Israel, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and Romania to celebrate this extraordinary event.In her discours the Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, a French citizen of Spanish birth, had given three reasons why she had decided to conduct this particular ceremony out of the hundreds celebrated each week in Paris. One was to repeat her ‘grande affection’ for Charlie Hebdo and her City’s unconditional support for the magazine in its resistance to barbarism and fanaticism, its determination ‘to make our liberal values live’. (There is a move to rename the precinct where Charlie Hebdo was produced ‘Place de la liberté d’expression.’) Simon Fieschi had been Charlie’s webmaster when on 7 January the Islamist assassins had shot him in his lungs, spine and shoulder and left him for dead. A second reason for singling out this marriage is the link it represents between France and Australia. Both Maisie and Simon share a passion for ideas and ideals. In their long walks together, Simon, a pure Parisian (un vrai parigot pur jus), rediscovered Paris through Maisie’s eyes, and Maisie, the Australian, book editor, and Sydney University student of French, became even more Parisian than Simon. Their differences of origin, temperament, ideas and culture gradually vanished in the world’s capital city of love. But there is a third reason – the most important of all – why the Mayor decided to conduct the marriage. To marry two people who love each other, she said, is one of the ‘most beautiful missions of any elected official’ -all the more so when it is of two young people who love each other with ‘a pure and evident love’ reinforced by an immense ordeal.
Even when Simon recovered consciousness from the assassins’ bullets, the brilliant French doctors who treated him believed that he would never recover the use of his limbs. He would be, they said, a cot case for the rest of his life. But day by day, muscle by muscle, Simon gradually recovered. It took months in the famous war veterans’ hospital – Les Invalides (where Napoleon is entombed) – until he was finally able to walk again sans voiture, without a walking frame. It was a miracle, the doctors said – and a triumph not only of French medicine but of Simon’s love of Maisie. Every day, as he survived in a coma between life and death, he told the Mayor that he kept telling himself: ‘I must get back for Maisie.’ Even when he awoke to consciousness, he believed or feared that she would surely not wait for him, a maimed and traumatized wreck, un éclopé.
But she did.
When she heard the news of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, she was visiting Sydney to see her family. The first report suggested that Simon had been killed. An hour later she learned that, although a dozen of Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and cartoonists had been murdered, Simon had survived – barely. She immediately returned to Paris and joined Simon at his bedside during his long rehabilitation. The Mayor summed it up: ‘Far from being estranged, you have both come closer. Far from renouncing the future, you embrace it. Together you believe in hope and will never give it up. Together you are the triumph of life over death.’ She ended by declaring: ‘The magic of the French republic seals your marriage.’
At the party after the ceremony, an even larger crowd assembled in the experimental Theatre du Soleil to celebrate the event against a huge mural of Shakespeare. One of them was Riss, the managing editor of Charlie Hebdo, who had also attended the marriage ceremony as an act of solidarity. When I told him that I was a contributor to a political-satirical magazine in Australia, he affably manifested little interest. I then asked him if he cared to glance at – and perhaps correct – the few words that I proposed, in a brief speech in French, to say about Charlie Hebdo. (I told him that I have profound admiration for the enormous courage of its freethinking contributors but not always of their ideas.) He again affably showed little interest in anything that any outsider may have to say about his brilliant if eccentric magazine. In any case, as soon as the speeches began, he appeared to bolt for the door. The other celebrants rocked on until the early hours, watched by armed guards.
It was a splendid couple of days. I regret that my late wife, Maisie’s grand-mother, Verna, was not there. Yet she was there in spirit. Her precious wedding ring is now Maisie’s. It shows, as Mayor Hidalgo put it, that marriage is not a trivial, outmoded formality. It is a choice of love and life illuminated by evidence.
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