When my boyfriend and I arrived in Paris on our train from Zurich, I could feel that something was different. There is such an aura about the city that it’s hard to describe, you really have to be there to experience it but for those of you who haven’t been – I’ll try to explain. Call it a construct but Paris has so much promise, so much hope and this comes with the many ideals generated from philosophers, writers, monarchs, politicians and romantics throughout its history. And the air – when I breathed in the chilled November, it washed my lungs with its own brand of something sentimental with a faint touch of cigarettes.
We found a taxi quite easily to get to our hotel, although it was a bit chaotic as there was a herd of them without the familiar all black or all yellow symbolism of London or New York that most of us are used to. With our luggage loaded into the boot of the car, we sped off to our temporary residence, down the sweeping boulevards littered with cafes, florists and gloomy side streets that spidered off into the distance. But the dreaminess really stops here. The evening that we arrived was the night of the Paris attacks.
I’ve left it this late to talk about the experience because being in a city under the heavy, cruel eye of terrorism gives you so much to say. But at the same time, the reality and emotion of it all leaves you speechless. So instead of reiterating what you see on the news or can read in the papers I’ll give you another side of it. I’ll tell you why Paris took my breath away, not because of the Instagrammable nooks or the grandeur of the monuments but because of its strength. The morning after the attacks, the people of the city kept their hearts and minds open. You could sense caution but there was no alarm. This just proves that although fear is a powerful thing, it can only affect us through our will to bring it to life. Someone once told me that fear is not from God and we should not accept it.
It’s funny and I suppose for the best that after so much has happened to this city that we can still go on glamourising Paris. What we want is an idea that we have of a place to match up in reality and I guess that this is a contemporary phenomenon that will not go away. Nevertheless, Paris still takes my breath away and will continue to do so long after the troubles are over. Not because of the adorable chocolatiers, iconic art museums or elegant boutiques but because against the media constructs and varying interpretations of its history, it fights for its values at every moment, every day. And I don’t ever see why it would stop.