To any traveller who has visited Paris, the terrible news this past weekend came as a wrenching blow: a series of terrorist attacks across the city, killing more than 100 innocent people in senseless acts of violence. It was an outrage, all the more so because it was an attack aimed at one of the great cities of the world – literally, one of the centres of modern civilization.
If you read The Travelling Boomer, you know that I’m a great admirer of France’s capital city. On my visit this summer I was captivated once again, not only by its beautiful architecture and timeless monuments, but by the way it was designed for people, not just cars and commerce, and by the way Parisians enjoy life, browsing the street markets and art galleries, having a coffee or a glass of wine in the city’s legendary cafês.
So like many of you, I found it painful to see this iconic city scarred by terrorists’ bullets. But at the same time, I was reminded of something I’d seen in my wanderings during my latest visit to Paris. Walking along the Seine, very near the National Assembly, I noticed an inscription on a wall that was pockmarked with holes and signs of violent impact.
“On the 11th of March, 1918,” it read, “Paris was bombarded by projectiles launched from planes, which fell upon the Ministry of War, where Georges Clemenceau was leading the government of the Republic.”
Nearby, another monument many passers-by would probably miss: a stone basket with a dried-up bouquet and another poignant inscription: “Slain for France: Here, Henri Jean Pilot, law student, fell heroically at the age of 23 on the 20th of August, 1944 for the liberation of Paris.”
Sombre memories from times when Paris was shaken far worse that it was this week. The German bombing of World War I left much of the downtown in ruins, and during WWII the city endured years of hardship under Nazis. In its 2,000-year history, Paris has seen and withstood an endless series of wars and conflicts: civil wars, revolutions, sieges, occupation by the English, the Prussians and the modern-day Germans. The city has seen many a dark day.
And yet, it’s still standing, bigger and more beautiful than it’s ever been. Shattered buildings have been rebuilt, or transformed into parts of modern Paris; scenes of old conflict, like the Bastille and Place de la Concorde, are now busy traffic routes. The sun still shines on its great boulevards, people still debate art and literature in the cafés, and tourists still line up to see its world-famous galleries and cathedrals.
And after the recent atrocities, Parisians took stranded citizens into their homes. Cab drivers gave free rides to those in need. Then, the city took a pause to recover from the shock, and returned to the task of living. Paris will endure, and while the security may be tighter, it will still be a fine place to visit.