Being fortunate enough not to have witnessed last week’s terrorist attacks, or directly know someone whose life was lost during the senseless cruelty, comes with its own, admittedly less severe, side affects. Things seem fragile and foggy, as if you’re in a perpetual haze of What’s Appropriate and How Do We Live Now?
As each day passes, I progress. We progress. You see it in amount of people smoking their cigarettes on les terrasses. The length of the line at the boulangerie. The trending hashtags changing from #prayforparis to #tousaubistrot—everyone to the bistro! The city stars to shift from frozen to thawed to melted to hopeful…
On Friday at 2a.m., I remained paralyzed in my armchair after learning the news hours earlier by way of “Are you OK???” texts from various friends. Having lived through 9/11 as a New Yorker, and the attack on Charle Hebdo just 10 months ago, you’d think I would be more equipped to deal with such assaults on our civil liberties, but shock has a mind of its own.
I awoke Saturday morning feeling as if I’d swallowed the pit of a peach and it was lodged in the center of my chest. I paced my apartment, too nervous to even meditate, something I’d been trying to do daily since signing up for Oprah and Deepak’s 21-Day Challenge two weeks prior. I managed to get dressed and head to yoga 15 minutes away where the absent scent of Fauchon’s famous croissants outside the metro seemed conspicuous. By day’s end, nearly every friend in my Facebook feed had the same blue, white and red filtered profile photo.
A bit thawed on Sunday, the pit in the heart remained, but I’d combat it with a Bloody Mary at a pre-planned clothing swap/brunch with friends. Most of us agreed it’d be a welcome distraction. In getting ready, though, putting on eye makeup and using my curling iron felt inappropriate. A bed-head would have to do. It was a blue sky day, and we allowed ourselves to get lost in the heaping pile of clothes on the bed rather than the heaping load of sorrow we all felt on our hearts. Still, I left on the early side with a strong desire to be home by dark.
On Monday, the chest ache persisted, but I managed to soothe it for about 20 minutes thanks to Deepak and Oprah. Washing my hair seemed like a good idea, and by the afternoon, I even ventured across town to visit my friend Lindsey in the 11th arrondissement, close to where the attacks occurred. Her husband made us pasta and we ate an entire loaf of bread before I took an Uber home, taking notice that the app’s circling black cars were now blue, white and red.
Starting to melt further on Tuesday, people’s profile photos began losing their shades of solidarity, and tweets about insignificant things returned to the newsfeed. A skirt felt suitable given the mild November weather and despite the four policemen with rifles on the platform of my métro, I was able to exit at Republique where it was serene and peaceful; the scent of cinnamon mixing with jasmine in the air from the hundreds of lit candles amongst the bouquets of flowers. Over at Martin Boire et Manger, a favorite haunt on Boulevard du Temple where I was meeting friends, typical double kisses prevailed as a greeting, but American-like bear hugs followed. Despite Le Fooding’s suggested moment of silence at 9p.m. as part of its “Tous au Bistrot” campaign, people were too busy no longer being quiet.
On Wednesday, I kept a prescheduled meeting, only to tense up on the way when I came across a man surrounded by several black bags spouting obscenities and nonsense in French. He was likely homeless or sick, which, sadly, I might ordinarily just shake off while continuing on. Instead, I wondered: Was it something else?? What’s in those bags?? I increased my gait, crossed to the other side of the road and eventually arrived at my appointment out of sorts once again. Afterwards, I went back to my neighborhood to take care of a few errands I’d neglected: buying toilet paper, picking up my dry cleaning and retrieving a package at the post office that arrived the week prior. In a case of the most perfect timing ever, it ended up being a box from my mom filled with a few requested items and, because she’s the incredible mom that she is, a few surprises including a cool top in celebration of my One-Year Paris Anniversary, which just so happened to be that very day. For the first time in days, I cried tears of joy.
Come Thursday, work beckoned and I began my research for a stylish person who lives in Shanghai for the monthly page I write in Hemispheres magazine. I listened to Spotify instead of the news. In the evening, I met a friend for a yoga class by the Champs Elysees where upon exiting the metro and popping my umbrella, I noticed that twinkly Christmas decorations now lit up the avenue. That evening’s teacher, the incomparable Amanda Dates, spoke about the central nervous system, even acknowledging that aching pain I’d been having, and how in times like these everyone’s emotions are valid. Everyone’s reactions are valid. Back in Montmartre around 10p.m., I ducked into an Asian street food place to order a late dinner. As I was waiting, the staff began making fresh mojitos and graciously offered me a complimentary one. Turns out the friendly owners are from Cambodia and Vietnam—two countries I plan to visit in February. I left not only feeling sated from the Thai chicken and rice, but extremely fortunate for such commaraderie here in Paris, and hopeful that I’d find it when I roam foreign lands in a few months.
On Friday, the fateful one-week mark, I awoke to the sound of rain. Hard, fast rain. Of course, I had where to be at 9:30a.m., as opposed to where I wanted to stay: tucked under my duvet. But I’d end up thankful for where I was going: the Louvre—for the first time in nearly 20 years! I’ll be doing some part-time work for the tour company Context Travel and they want me to sample a few tours. I chose the Louvre “crash course” because I hadn’t been in ages, and without any sort of guide I knew I’d end up walking around aimlessly. The museum had reopened and I felt a sense of duty to show up and support tourism, which is already being drastically affected by the events. Not only was the docent a wealth of knowledge, but it was so incredibly fulfilling to be surrounded by all that art and beauty—along with the notion of preservation, in general. Much of the sculptures and canvases at the Louvre have been exhibited for hundreds of years, surviving revolutions and sieges, which felt fitting to recognize given the recent events. While some rooms were strangely quiet, Mona Lisa was still smiling and a crowd of tourists were there to take selfies with her. Pride, it seemed, was prevailing.
Later that night, I attended a Thanksgiving dinner for several expat journalists at the trés chic La Reserve hotel, where they carved a turkey table side and generously scooped sides of candied sweet potatoes, green peas with pork, truffle creamed potatoes and more onto our plates. It felt gluttonous and indulgent and freeing. It felt like Paris.
Day by day, Paris feels more and more like Paris. And that tightness in my heart is increasingly replaced by hope.
An abridged version of this text appears in this week’s issue of Grazia UK.