Paris Impressions: Subdued Sadness & Dignified Determination

Arrival at Gare du Nord, Paris

Arrival at Gare du Nord, Paris

Even Gare du Nord looked good to me yesterday, so eager was I to return to Paris.

Except for an additional passport check at London St. Pancras, our journey was smooth, the Eurostar as full as ever (we only spotted one empty seat), and arrival as it always has been, peaceful with visible security presence at Gare du Nord. The first metro to our quartier seemed slightly quieter than usual; the second more crowded than usual, probably reflecting the time of the evening. Paris is an hour later than London so it was still daylight when we came up the steps of the station.

Eiffel Tower peeking through the trees, Paris

Eiffel Tower peeking through the trees, Paris

Our initial impressions, returning for the first time since recent tragic events, are that Parisians, with their usual dignified approach, are living their lives as best they can, at least on the surface. We arrived just as the school day finished so kids were everywhere, bursting out of the buildings, laughing and chattering as they scampered or scootered up the street beside their parents or waited for the  crossing guard to stop traffic so they could dash across. As darkness fell, evening shoppers strolled through a pedestrian area with many shops decorated for Christmas.

Evening shoppers & Christmas decorations, Paris

Evening shoppers & Christmas decorations, Paris

At Trocadéro, different shades of green spotlighted the Eiffel Tower, to recognise the COP21 Paris climate talks. The esplanade was fairly quiet, but it’s usually relatively deserted this time of year, one of the many reasons we love Paris in (almost) winter.

Eiffel Tower & green spotlights, Paris

Eiffel Tower & green spotlights, Paris

This morning we again took the metro and it was fine; then we shifted to the bus, partly to avoid metro tourist lines (in case they were crowded, which we would avoid at the best of times) and equally as much to take a direct route to several destinations and because I love taking the bus in Paris – avoiding some metro stairs and/or smells, soaking up the scenery and discovering new streets and areas for exploration.

Riding the bus offers great views and perspectives of the city; we noticed the French flag, the Tricolore, flying in several locations.  I’m not sure if it’s always there, or if we’re simply more sensitive to seeing it this trip.

Tricolore at Place de l’Ecole Militaire

Tricolore at Place de l’Ecole Militaire

Tricolore at Place de l’Alma, taken from a bus

Tricolore at Place de l’Alma, taken from a bus

My most emotional moment so far was in a small shop this afternoon, when I purchased several santons de Provence (figurines for my crèche). The shop was quite busy and full but eventually I made my way to the counter. The young woman serving me asked if we live in Paris. When I explained how eager I’d been to return here after recent events, she seemed to have difficulty responding and became choked up. I immediately lost all ability to speak French and could only nod in sympathy and make a gesture with my fingertips of tears coming out of my eyes. Then she said, ‘Oui’ and we both got teary-eyed. I couldn’t speak either. She rang up my items and we both tried to smile at each other. She seemed happy to talk with me and I really wanted to converse more with her but felt inadequate communicating in words. We did communicate with feelings and I only wish I could have given her a hug, though she might have thought I was some crazy American/Aussie going overboard getting all physical and no doubt sending delicate figurines flying in all directions.

outside the shop where I shared a young woman’s sadness

outside the shop where I shared a young woman’s sadness

Our neighbourhood, and what we’ve seen of the city so far, is full of its usual activity. Clive and I both have the impression of this underlying sadness, as one would expect after such traumatic events, combined with the dignity and determination to go about one’s daily life — children at school, parents at work and everyone getting up and going out and about each day, not necessarily masking their sadness but enduring and living with it.

As for Parisians not being helpful – a stereotype I loathe because it’s most-often not true — today we experienced more than our usual share of offers to assist. Three different times, when we were perusing a map or bus timetable, we received offers to help, one from a young French-Japanese boy on a scooter who virtually walked us to our destination and made sure we turned the right way.

Clive pausing for a moment at the Buren Columns, Palais Royal, Paris

Clive pausing for a moment at the Buren Columns, Palais Royal, Paris

I’m looking forward to seeing our elderly neighbours and our close local acquaintances, but that must wait until after our upcoming weekend visiting my mother in the U.S.

Until then, I’m always inspired by Ben Franklin keeping watch over the city everyone loves so much.

Ben Franklin statue at Trocadéro, Paris

Ben Franklin statue at Trocadéro, Paris

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

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6 Responses

  1. Great post with a lot of heart felt sentiments. I was away during the tragic events in Paris, and came back a few weeks later… Spoke to a few of my students about it…

  2. Paris is such a beautiful city, and this post was so heartfelt. Thank you for sharing. I lived with my sister in Paris for three weeks in August and I feel so connected to the City of Lights.

  3. Leesa thank you and nice you can talk with your students about this. I know it affects everyone on multiple levels.

    cookiesnchem appreciate your comment — totally relate to how you could feel so connected to this amazing city. Hope your sister is doing okay if she’s still here.

  4. Very nice post Carolyn. I’m glad you made the trip, and good wishes for your weekend trip to New Jersey.

  5. Hi Carolyn and Clive,
    Bless you both for returning. The fact that you and Clive return to your second home means that you are Parisians at heart.
    I am so glad that you are back here… please pm me on FB if you can meet and have a cuppa and a chat.
    xox

  6. MarthaB, thank you and also for NJ wishes. Happy holidays to you and John!

    xpat92, love your thoughts about being Parisian at heart 🙂 Thank you! Hope to be in touch when we return xx

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