The news out of Paris has had an interesting impact on me; I’m going to be visiting in December.
I booked the trip back in September; I’m flying out Christmas Day, staying in a tiny attic AirBnB in the 6eme arrondisment, and I’ll be there for the New Year festivities. For much of October I’ve been browsing travel guides and making lists of cafes to visit and trying to heimlich the high school French out of my brain to practice. I was at work when the news came in – I have a BBC News app on my iPad, and news broke at about 4 in the afternoon and I started watching closely.
At no time whatsoever did I consider cancelling the trip.
This ain’t the first time I had bad luck strike before a big trip, first of all. I lost my job before a big visit to Mardi Gras in 2009, and an Iceland volcano blew right before my 2011 trip to London and threatened not only my flight, but my chance to see David Tennant onstage. And another volcano blew right before my second trip to London one year later. And on all three occasions, any momentary thought that maybe I should cancel got brushed aside with an “oh, hell no” and I went ahead anyway. I even had plane trouble on my way to New Orleans and missed my connection in Miami, but I simply traded in my ticket for the next connection – six hours later – and went directly to the gate and plunked myself down and sat there for the entire six hours because I was not going to miss that flight again, dammit. There’s a saying that no plan survives first contact with the enemy; travel plans are no exception.
I will grant that a terrorist attack is somewhat different from a missed plane or a lost job. But…this isn’t my first terrorist attack either. I know the shock that the people of Paris are going through because I’ve lived it. But – I also know how a lot of people are going to want desperately to know whether life is ever going to get back to normal; will people still wander into the shops? Will there still be bright winter days? Will people still want to have nights out in restaurants where they linger over coffee? Will tourists still crowd the street and mangle French and get in their way all the time? They want normal. Clumsy American tourists are part of that normal, visitors marveling at the things they see every day are part of that normal. They don’t want to be left alone; people around the world re-doing their facebook avatars or retweeting the Eiffel Tower peace sign is nice and all, but a month from now they will want to know we aren’t going to be afraid of their city.
And it’s a cliche that gets tossed around a lot at times like this, but it’s true – us being afraid is exactly what the attackers want. Unfortunately in the U.S. we’ve given into that fear, with a whole degree of security theater at the airports and an embroilment in the war that seeded the movement that spurred on the Paris attacks in the first place. But there are New Yorkers who never gave into that – who kept on with what they did every day, going to work, going to the parks, going to the big landmarks, exploring, living. Paris seems well-equipped to have a similar reaction.
One of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists posted a series of cartoons on his Instagram page, depicting his reaction to the events. In them, he references the city’s motto – “fluctuat nec mergitur”, which he translates to “It is beaten by the waves but does not sink”. Or, he adds, “fuck death”.
And he’s right – the hell with that. The hell with being afraid to live, to love, to get drunk or dance or get your mind blown by art or tasting new food or seeing something new you’ve never seen before or striking up a conversation with someone in a language that’s not your own. That is what we are all on earth to do – to see and taste and do and grow. It may indeed be my fate to get hit in a later attack there. But – if I don’t go, I risk a much greater dent to my soul.
So – Paris, I mourn with you, and I’m coming to you.
Avec tout de mon amour.