When we told friends and family of our plans to visit Paris, 2 ½ months after November's terrorist attacks, we received some strange looks and concerned questions – like “Why go now?” and “Is it safe?” So I thought I'd remind people of the amazing allures of the City of Light and reflect on the things I saw.
When we arrived, local and military police were everywhere! The first time I went to Paris was a few days after the US bombing of Libya in 1986 and now – with the travel warnings and the ubiquitous presence of soldiers – it was 1986 all over again. But now there were security checks going into just about every building as well: churches, museums, concert halls. Thankfully not restaurants or shops, but those were on alert in a different way.
One night in the Bastille we were sitting in a small restaurant with a glass front, not far from where several of the attacks took place. Suddenly, outside, the traffic came to a halt. Eventually motorists started beeping at a car that was not moving and people in the restaurant were beginning to become concerned; what had been a lively crowd became hushed and almost silent as the chef/owner came out of the kitchen and went to see what was going on. Body language changed and there was definitely a tension in the air – these days, someone stopping in the road could be more than just car trouble. In this case, all was fine and went back to normal, but not until drawing a crowd with their cell phones ready.
Paris is not used to this level of caution. There were big tents with metal detectors and security lines set up in an impromptu way at the entrance to the Opera among other places – where there used to be nothing. I don't know if the tents will eventually disappear and things will go back to normal, or if this is the new normal and they'll end up building permanent structures to house them, but the times are such that we will find out shortly.
Mostly, we felt very safe everywhere. Though personally I feel nervous walking by a guy with a machine gun, like the ones in front of government buildings, synagogues and mosques, even if he is supposed to be protecting me.
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the Bastille, a short walk from both the Bataclan Theatre and the Marais, one of Paris' most fashionable (and expensive) areas. Loaded with shops, cafes and nightlife, the Marais' picturesque squares and avenues buzz with activity. From there, we continued walking in a different direction each day. Once, we took a short stroll across the bridge in front of Hotel de Ville to Notre-Dame and Saint-Chapelle with its amazing stained glass (not to be missed).