Prolonged exposure to French students has turned me into a Francophile. I love their culture, customs and good manners. I’m even beginning to understand a word or two of their beautiful language. On the other hand, their exposure to me has turned some of the students into Forest Parkophiles. I give presentations about our history. I’ve even made Ferrara Pan Candy part of the curriculum. 

It’s a joy to teach these French students in a location where my classroom windows look out over Chicago’s Champ d’ Elysees — Michigan Avenue. Across the street is the grandeur of Grant Park and the bronze sculptures and monuments of “The Paris of the Midwest.” Many of the students fall in love with Chicago.

This French-American lovefest was in full swing on Nov. 13. It was a glorious autumn day and I was stuck inside correcting papers. Normally, this would be a tedious task but the essays they wrote about the struggles and triumph of an African-American artist were so heartfelt. Several times my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t realize they would later fill with a different kind of tears.

When I was finished, I felt so satisfied, I thought I deserved a snack and to watch a little TV. When I saw the news report from Paris, I was instantly in shock. I have so many friends, relatives and former students there. One of them poured her heart out to me about the attacks in a page-long email. At the end of the night, one of my students sent me a piece she wrote titled, “Pray for Paris.” 

On Sunday, I went downtown for the rally in front of the French Consulate. A few hundred French and their supporters showed up bearing signs, candles and flags. The ceremony was simplicity itself. Consul General Vincent Floreani made some brief remarks in French and English, thanking Chicagoans for their solidarity with Paris. There was a minute of silence and then the crowd sang “La Marseillaise.” About a dozen of my students were there, some holding handmade signs. The crowd constructed a makeshift shrine of flowers, signs and flickering candles.

I’m sure the people of Forest Park also feel solidarity with the French, but I wanted to show you how one of my former students feels solidarity with Forest Park. Here is her “Poem for John: Forest Park Walks the Talk.” 

Detective work was necessary – to show in infinite clarity – the beauty of a city – where the Blue Line ends – and the variety transcends. Cozy kitchens, business lunches – following leads and having hunches – children’s ice cream, lovely stories – crowded pubs without all worries – twinkling, staying and shaking hands, trusting people at a glance. Connective energy and inspiration – including chocolate temptation – cooking education – writer’s reputation – full of exploration and imagination. The idyll of busy streets and peaceful trees – the perfect scene for mysteries – glimmer and shimmer from pre-history. Victory Liberty – German words so far from home – feeling caught in a cake dome – The world is smaller than you think – sometimes it’s just the missing link – which is covered through dark and dusk – past and future, mixed and hushed – Gypsy graveyard, circus tragedy – proud monuments free of all vanity – forming ways from past and history – to generous hospitality – Skip all patterns of expectations – Step out of the Blue Line station – and you will see and agree – that you will be a happy invitee. 

I want to thank Lara for expressing her feelings about Forest Park. Pray for Paris! Viva la France!

 John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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