My recent Christmas holiday included Paris as our real travel destination. Paris is a city that I am quite familiar with having lived and worked there some years ago. It is a big, bustling, but also coy city. You might question the description, coy, but the majority of Parisiens keep to themselves and lead their lives in the midst of the Napoleonic grandeur doing their own thing.
So you can imagine my shock when we arrived only a few days in the wake of the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo. When the incidents occurred, we were over at Disneyland Paris and you could see an immediate and overt increase in Police and security presence. So when we got to the city centre for our last night before returning home, there was an uneasy feeling pervading the fabric of the city. Like I said, most Parisiens do their own thing and lead their own lives most of the time. Quite often neighbours have only one thing in common, that they are neighbours. But Charlie Hebdo was on everyone’s lips, and when red beret soldiers in flak jackets are walking around flaunting their automatic rifles around the prime tourist destinations something was up.
But I was not going to let that stop me or my family from touring the beautiful city of light. We stayed at the Pullman, Eiffel Tower and I wanted to walk around the locale of my old office. The tower itself was only a block away, right on our doorstep. Capturing it never gets tired.
The Seine itself was quiet, but that was not surprising given it was the middle of Winter. As always there were several canal boats unassumingly moored on its banks.
I was shocked to find the big ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banner draped on the Palais de Tokyo. Normally these pillars hold the banners for the latest exhibition of modern art.
At Place d’Iena, the location of my old office, both the French and European Union flags flew at half mast in solidarity.
I was surprised to see electric car charging booths on quite a few streets. I am a keen fan of Elon Musk’s Tesla, but these little electric buggies were new to me as were their berths. Maybe Australian politicians could learn a thing or two from where France is going with clean and sustainable transport. (I still want the Tesla – Model S P85D please…)
Did I mention there were Police everywhere? If you look to the end of the platform you can see several gendarmes – they were everywhere.
When we emerged out of the metro at the L’Arc de Triomphe, the first sight we were greeted with was… three burly gendarmes making their presence felt on the Champs-Élysées.
The L’Arc de Triomphe itself was bearing the projection of solidarity for the whole city.
Paris remains a city in love with movies since the time when Lumiere gifted the world with his new performance medium. There are more cinemas in Paris than there are pubs in Dublin.
We were making our way to a restaurant that I dined at regularly when I was working there. Though it has changed hands and has a new proprietor Oscar remains a great restaurant which is well patroned by the locals. I think most tourists in Paris are hoodwinked by the overpriced eating establishments when all it takes is to walk off the main streets to find fantastic food and wine at half the price without the BS. The team at Oscar made us feel welcome even when we were dragging two children and a wet pram into their restaurant – so I (and many others on tripadvisor) definitely recommend this place to dine.
Even with all the unease and tension, the city remains the city of light. And when my boy saw the Eiffel Tower light up and glitter for the first time, for a brief few moments the tension was pushed away.
Hopefully the next time I visit it will be under a different set of circumstances.
Addendum: I wrote this post last night and overnight tragedy befell Copenhagen too. Two worlds are colliding right now; one secular, modern, and liberal (but not necessarily without religion or morals) against the other ultra-doctrinal, intolerant, and archaic. Neil Degrasse Tyson tells us that colliding worlds are not a good thing at all.