Letter From New York 01 11 15 While they marched in Paris…

Riding on Amtrak back to the city, the Hudson River is more heavily iced than it was just a few days ago. Once again, it is steel grey as is the whole world, grey and overcast, not bathed in the golden light of yesterday.

On the train I usually ride in the café car; it has been years since the trains running between Albany and New York have had an active café car. Sitting with me are two friends I have made through the train, Kathleen and Arthur, who have a small farm on the west side of the Hudson, outside of Catskill.

We met on the train some years ago, taking the same Sunday train back into the city. We had a tradition of bringing along leftovers from the weekend and making a picnic of the ride into New York. With food and a good bottle of wine, the trip always evaporated.

Then I started not going back on Sundays, waiting until Monday mornings and, while not riding the Sunday picnic train, we have remained friends and we have partied since off the train. We’re all headed back early this Sunday because we have dinners in the city.

Arthur is headed to Paris next week for a culinary tour of the City of Lights. Naturally our talk turned to Charlie Hebdo and the march that took place there today. Millions marched for solidarity; lead by the French President Hollande, who was joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. Also there was Netanyahu of Israel as well as Abbas of Palestine, the President of Ukraine and the Foreign Minister of Russia, all putting their differences aside long enough to join this march, equal parts of sorrow and defiance. With no speeches, just presence.

Back in Germany, Hamburger Morgenpost printed some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and was firebombed.

Some are saying that this event has ripped the soul of France the way 9/11 seared the soul of the United States, a fundamental change occurring in the fabric of society.

Obama is calling for a “Counterterrorism Summit” is Washington in February.

Ah, the clouds have parted and some sunlight slips through, causing flecks of light to bounce off the icy waters of the Hudson.

It is impossible to know where the road is leading at anytime. But the situation we face with radical Islam seems particularly knotty. Is it, as Arthur suggested earlier, a result of poverty? Or does radical Islam offer a route away from oppressive governments? Or is it that we are seeing the beginning of an Islamic Reformation which promises to be as violent as the Christian Reformation? Any of these is probably too simple an answer for the most complex question of our time and reality is a mixture of all of these and more.

Each day will be played out and we will move irrevocably into the future and the future will unfold. In the meantime, three million took to the streets in Paris in some effort to express feelings that must seem inchoate.

When 9/11 happened, the streets of New York were eerily quiet and the world seemed in a daze. It will be interesting to speak with Arthur when he returns to see if Paris is the same.

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