heavy hearts, but hopeful spirits
Paris. The city of love, fine art, good food, great wine. And now the city of armed military patrols. We have visited France several times before, and the sight of fully armed soldiers patrolling the streets was as out-of-place in our conception of Paris as a UFO full of extraterrestrials would have been. And yet, this is Paris’s new temporary reality. The state of emergency declared after the November attacks was extended in February for another 3 months, and this decision clearly weighed on everyone’s mind even as Parisians sought a return to normalcy.
It was on our minds too. Our immersion trip started barely a week after the Belgium attacks; in fact, S had to change her return ticket, as she was originally set to fly through Brussels. While it would have been naive to turn a blind eye to Europe’s changing security landscape, we also tried to place recent events in context — an exercise of daily reflection that appears to be shared by the Parisians who were willing to speak candidly to us.
Unlike the attack on Charlie Hebdo, which was targeted specifically in an act of reprisal, the November attacks seemed more disquieting because the target was Paris’s very psyche and identity. And while the government heightened security at public buildings, museums, and national monuments, the citizenry’s response has been stoically French. People with whom we spoke acknowledged their initial feeling of shock — the realization that they could well have been among the victims — at the same time that they voiced their refusal to be cowed and their determination to go on with their daily lives.
The same resilience can be witnessed on a grander scale. Whereas other recent targets of terrorism suffered subsequent long-term economic setbacks, Paris’s tourism sector quickly rebounded. Barely a month after the November attacks, Paris was back to welcoming the same number of international visitors it always does. There are longer queues at museums because of additional security procedures, and we had to strike a couple of meetings from our agenda because of restricted access to government buildings. But in all other respects, life goes on.