Vive la France
On November 13, 2015, 130 people were killed in a series of Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris.
We arrived in Paris on December 12. My boyfriend Scott’s birthday is December 15th and we often travel mid-December. We had already planned to go to Paris – visions of strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine dancing in my mind – before we knew of the attacks. Barring imminent danger, we certainly weren’t going to cancel our trip, but of course I wondered about the mood of the city in the aftermath of such tragedy. I lived through the September 11, 2001 attacks on NYC, and I remember the mood as one of somewhat numb resilience. I don’t think the city felt grim, but we were definitely damaged, different – and I wondered if Paris, one month on, would feel damaged as well.
We made our way on the RER train from CDG to Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles, near our hotel. The train station is below the Forum des Halles shopping mall, and Scott wanted to stop in the mall to buy SIM cards for our phones, so that we could be connected (and not pay ridiculous rates to our US carriers). As we entered the mall, we encountered the first of what we would learn were the “new normal” security checks all around Paris – coats and bags open, and they ran a little wand around us. Nothing too intrusive, and while it all seems a bit of “security theater”, it certainly didn’t bother me.
Other than the extra security and the significant military presence on the streets, Paris felt as I remembered it – relaxed, overtly unrushed, almost decadently chill. We were in Paris once before, years ago. I had traveled very little at that time that I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer wonder of being there, but I still remember loving the moments of simply taking it all in together. Maybe that’s the true romance of Paris – it not only allows but practically insists that you take time to enjoy; enjoy the walk, enjoy the food, enjoy each other.
Seemingly everywhere were smallish cafes with tons of tables jammed together outside in front, often facing the street to provide excellent people-watching as you sip your chosen beverage, kept toasty by overhead heaters. As we sat drinking a beer in one such ubiquitous cafe, I was struck by two thoughts. First, I thought of the people sitting outside on November 13th, enjoying the night, when a terrorist opened fire or detonated a suicide vest. How horrendous and unjust and sad. Then I thought, here we are, one month later, and the cafes are packed with people undefeated, defiantly enjoying the holiday season in a most Parisian fashion.
I’ve read that tourism was down, and the guide on a tour we took mentioned specifically that there had been a drastic drop off in Japanese tourists (apparently a large portion of her company’s clientele) since the attacks, but the city that I experienced was not in peril. It was strong, full of life, and as fabulous as ever. I’m sure there were changes for security purposes, even things I wouldn’t know as a tourist but that might be visible to more frequent visitors or locals, but nothing that precluded an amazing holiday.
Christmas lights shined brightly along the Champs-Élysées market. The Eiffel Tower was – well, it was the Eiffel Tower. And everywhere we looked there were chocolate eclairs to be eaten and glasses of champagne to drunk. Go to Paris. Go to Paris for the beauty and the art and the romance and the food and for all of the reasons anyone ever went to Paris.
Oh, and also – Screw the terrorists.