After a holiday in the South of France wound north through wine country, my boyfriend and I arrived in Paris Friday morning to meet with my sister, who had taken a train to the French capital from her home in Basel, Switzerland. We hadn't seen each other in more than six months and to us, there was no better place to reconnect than Paris.
A Midwestern Francophile practically since birth, I attended French summer camp in Minnesota much of my childhood (no English allowed!), studied the language in high school and used my mediocre fluency as a "secret" language with my sister whenever we wanted to gossip at home without our parents understanding. We still do.
After enjoying dinner at a cafe in Le Marais Friday night, a belated 29th birthday celebration for my sister, my boyfriend and I split off for a walk on what was an unusually balmy Parisian night. We were in Paris the same time last year and it was difficult to be out this late in the biting cold. Friday, sidewalk cafes were full with outdoor diners, and groups of young locals were gathered outside Notre Dame, giggling and drinking wine, or practicing precision rollerblading skills on bridges straddling the Seine.
Around 10:19 p.m., while walking the winding streets in the 11th Arrondissement, just south of the Bataclan concert hall where we would later learn that more than 100 people had been killed, I received a mobile news alert of a shooting in Paris. I initially didn't think much of it. My boyfriend and I both work in the news, and we see plenty of alerts like this. When you're subscribed to 15-plus alert services, they tend to lose their effect.
We continued to walk as sirens began to overpower the natural hum of the city. We had a difficult time crossing streets (big and small) as police cars and emergency vehicles were flying through green pedestrian lights.
Roughly 20 minutes later, we reached our small boutique hotel, between the 11th and 3rd arrondissements, to find the front door locked and no one at the front desk. We rang the doorbell and after a few minutes a hotel employee appeared. He looked shaken, no doubt trying to hide what we would soon learn must have been a state of incredulity and horror with a professional half-smile.
Paris is the City of Light, the city of love, my white whale. It's the city that I dream about living in one day, where I've visited three times in three years.
It's well past 2 a.m. now and our eyes are glued to the news. We've closed the curtains and I shake every time we hear a car go by, thinking about the Mumbai hotel attacks in 2008 that killed more than 160 and wounded hundreds. I ask my boyfriend if he thinks there will be more attacks in Paris and he doesn't immediately answer "no." Instead, he says he doesn't know. No one knows. I wish he would just lie to me.
Yes, my admiration for les Parisiens is largely due to their laissez faire way of life, cafe culture and celebration of carbs. But following the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, I came to admire them for their grace, their courage and their fortitude in the face of fear. This is not the new Parisian. They've always been this way.
Je suis Paris. Vous etes Paris. Nous sommes Paris.