My first visit to Paris was in September 1972 at the age of 19. I was on my way to Toulouse (where I’d be working for the next 9 months). I did a course at the Sorbonne to prepare for the work I’d be doing.
I didn’t have much money and Paris was expensive then – as it is now – so I wasn’t able to enjoy it much. The Sorbonne was interesting of course, especially just 4 years after being the focus of the 1968 riots.
I’d been to France before as a 13 year old. A typical school exchange visit. That was Metz, however.
I’d also visited France as a 17 year old on an Interrail adventure around several countries, but Strasbourg was the place we stayed.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Paris and other parts of France since then.
I was a frequent visitor to Paris for a few years in the 00s, and that’s when I got to know it much better. I still prefer the south, however. It’s about the people and their way of life.
I’ve had a week in Toulouse this year and last, so the bond with France is still strong. I had a long weekend in Paris last year as well.
For the Easter of 1973 I went to Morocco to stay with friends’ family. The friends were studying in Toulouse. Did I think of them as Moslem? I don’t think so. I can’t even remember if they were. Their mum was French (well, Corsican anyway). Their dad was Moroccan. I do remember their young sister, but that’s another story.
Certainly that trip was my first exposure to the Islamic world. The friendliness and culture of hospitality are the two things I remember.
I spent the Christmas of 2009 in Morocco, looking up some old haunts and exploring some new ones.
One of the longer female relationships in my life was with someone who is Turkish. I stayed with her family in Istanbul several times. I don’t know if they consider themselves Moslem. I wasn’t aware of them being religious in any way. I do know the only time she visited a mosque was to take me inside the Blue Mosque as a tourist.
Of course most westerners are ill informed about Turkey. It is complex, which doesn’t help. The constitution requires it to be a secular state – non-religious. It’s way ahead of the UK in that respect, where English bishops (unelected, obviously) still legislate in the (unelected) House of Lords.
Many segments of the Turkish population are thoroughly non-religious. Others are thoroughly Moslem. Some are very traditional, and the women wear headscarves, but that is out of tradition and not from religious observance. They may be very religious too, of course.
You’ll find a significant Armenian community in Istanbul. If they are religious, it will be Armenian Orthodox.
Friendliness and hospitality characterise my memories of Turkey too.
One of my best friends these days was brought up in a traditional, Moslem family in England. She rebelled, and is no longer even a Moslem.
The massacres in Paris on 13 November 2015 left me numb and shocked. It’s not a place I love, but I like many aspects of it and it has played a strong part in my life. France is a place I love. I grew up during my 9 months working there.
I can’t reconcile what happened with any aspect of Islam which I’ve come across. It was political and criminal, and not religious in any shape or form.
I’m still trying to work out what political game it is part of. It’s a dangerous one, whatever it is. The best bet is usually either to follow the money, or to figure out who has most to gain.
© iain taylor 2015