In August, to honor the 9th anniversary of my dad’s death, I booked a flight to Paris for just after Thanksgiving, to give me something to look forward to, a bright spot on an otherwise bleak day. To buoy me the way Paris always does, in its ineluctable magnetism. It would be my second trip this year, coming just six months after a quick stop in May, and though it might seem excessive to some, to me, Paris has long felt as necessary as breathing. It’s a required part of my life.
I’ve had a suitcase packed since the first day in November. I’ve had an itinerary drafted for each day I’m there for weeks; tentatively, of course, and allowing for ample time to wander and stop in a café or deviate from the plan. I’ve made sure to pack my empty Mariage Frères tea tins to refill at the boutique. A new umbrella for the inevitable winter rain. Gloves. An extra memory card for my camera. Everything I thought I’d need.
And then Friday happened. Attends, this isn’t about me. I wasn’t there, I don’t live there (yet), and despite my best efforts to the contrary, I’m not actually French. My platitudes will seem empty and weak, but I need to voice them anyway, because, as my friend Lyndsey told me early Saturday morning –after I’d woken up and had felt, for those first thirty seconds of confused consciousness, that everything had been a nightmare– “You are in love with Paris. And you need to stand by it.” I am in love with Paris, and I need to stand by it. I suppose, then, that I could be forgiven, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy Friday night, for briefly considering not going at the end of the month. For canceling my flight, eating the cost of everything, in the name of panic. Love allows for momentary lapses in faith and judgement, I hope. Because as I watched the coverage deep into the evening, crying and stricken with a sense of helplessness and fear, I thought, “Of course I can’t go now.” Simultaneously, I knew, “Of course I must.”
In January, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, “Paris will recover, has shown it is capable of overcoming the darkness in the days since the attack. For a city so filled with light, how could it not?” It seemed a given, and the city and its inhabitants banded together in the most beautiful show off strength and solidarity. And when I was there in May, the city was back to normal, or whatever the new normal was. It was easy to feel safe then. But in 12 days, when I go back, I don’t think I’ll have the same (false?) sense of security.
There’s been so much said in the endless media coverage the last few days that the targets were ‘random’ and rather than being specific artists at a satirical newspaper, it was everday people out on a Friday night after a long work week. The attacks on Friday were not random. The target on Friday wasn’t a specific person for exercising their freedom of speech, but rather an entire way of life. But that doesn’t make it any less deliberate than what happened in January. The targets were centralized around one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Paris, where people of all races and ethnicities live and work. They were places people could mix freely, drink alcohol, watch an international sporting event, listen to American music, dance in public, laugh, kiss, smoke, be outside without fear, in clothing they chose. The very things the terrorists abhor. The attacks were not random, the attackers just didn’t care about first and last names this time.
Does that mean everyone changes their lives in response to this horror? It could happen here tomorrow, and I wouldn’t consider staying indoors in Philadelphia for the rest of my life. So of course I’m going to Paris. I’m going to Paris in 12 days, and I’m going again in March. I’ll probably try to go again at the end of next year, because I can’t –and won’t– stay away. There’s something to be said about “not letting the terrorists win,” that oft repeated line we hear whenever something like this happens.
I wonder what sort of mood I’ll find in Paris this time. It’s changed the entire atmosphere of my trip, tinged it with a surreal, nervous edge. But I don’t get to complain, because I’m alive, and everyone I know in Paris is alive and safe, too. I’m going back, because I am in love with Paris.