Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why the Bataclan Theatre?

The Bataclan theatre, where the worst of the Paris attacks was staged, is a nineteenth-century music hall embedded in a block facing Boulevard Voltaire in a dense, culturally-mixed neighborhood.    It couldn’t be more classically Parisian in design or in use.  Most of the façade is inhabited by Café Ba’ta,clan that offers patrons a sidewalk salon of wicker chairs and tables on the boulevard.  The theatre entry is modest, facing the street so the queue forms outside.

Why did ISIS choose that place, a low-rent music hall, among all the gilded theatres of Paris?  Some speculate that the owner’s support for Israel brought down the wrath of murderers.  Maybe.  Was it American heavy metal?  Or Parisian nightlife? Perhaps.

I’m struck by the cruel irony that the architectural openness of the Bataclan made it vulnerable, while the same openness is our best defense against intolerance.  The Bataclan (meaning the whole caboodle) embraces the city and makes the boulevard into a public space – not just a street.  Its café turns outward to welcome all those who drink and chat.  The theatre has two entrances that flank the café, but only one is used.  They lead up to a foyer that looks back over the street with tall French doors and a long balcony where concert-goers might perch at intermission, or go for air when the music gets too thick.  The façade is bright and decorative.  Originally it had a Chinese kick to the roof, just to make it exotic, and three circular windows at the top.   The historybuff has an early picture showing the chinoiserie inside and out.  The Bataclan embodies the best French tradition of  urban architecture, with joy, urbanity and good humor.

Perhaps that also offends those who would control us.   
A good night at the Ba'ta,clan Café

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