I had to be here today. Not nervous. To be here, in the city I was in exactly a year ago, for Christmas. Been here during the year, but Christmas in Paris, is like London, a special place to be.
It’s quiet. The streets lay bare and the people passing are local. Perhaps it could be winter, but it also the fear that keeps them away. Clearly noticeable alighting from the Eurostar, turning right for the long walk down to the Opera. There is spiritual blood on the streets, I can sense it everywhere, but then I am not close to the place where flowers begin to die. No memorials anywhere else, all else is as normal, but moving in slow motion. Maybe it’s the cold, but this is not the bitter, gloves and scarf winter of last December.
This is a pilgrimage. The year has been unkind and my city of Light is hurt, so the return is to rediscover spirit and faith in all. The moment I saw this little girl peer through the window in delight a the Christmas Tree in the foyer of the hotel, I was good to step away from the negative and go for the most beautiful walk in the world. (yes it is a line, a title of one of my favourite books.) Past St. Augustin where a beer in the evening is always welcome at the Brasserie, to St. Phillipe du Roule. Candles lit, and may I sneak to say, a quick stripping of socks for more plasters (shit I should have worn the boots in before Paris) but I can swear I was the only one present, apart from a forgiving Lord that is.
Spirits lifted, music in the ears with a little bit of Frankie Valli, Dionne Warwick – was I on a Motown streak, I walked up Rue la Boétie to the main Avenue of Paris, the dash across the street and heading for the Seine. Confess to not been charmed by the tourist Charms of Elysee, been there too often, so headed, for my daughter, to George V. She loves the floral decor by Jeff Leatham, only he is on holiday and a million blue baubles stand in the foyer. The building is draped in fairy lights.
As the light fades, the city transform to fairy land. People are visiting the Christmas village, heading home … and stopping to fraternise at the sidewalk cafes. It gets busier, so I guess, it is just the tourists absent, for Paris is pouring from offices into the streets, the shops and the cafes.
And we are back! Window shopping on the Rue St. Honoré. Emphasis on Window shopping for this darling cannot even afford a ribbon in these stores. All the designers are there, Hermés, Balenciaga, Tom Ford. Dior, Chanel, Loro Piana and all the others, but heaven knows how they are feeling the pain of the terror but three weeks ago. I do see Police everywhere, but they are not invasive.
What is different is that all bags are checked at the entrance to shops. I remember this happening in South Africa years back and soon became the norm, as it seems here. Sad though. Still, the music is strong, the lights are pretty and the mood infectious.
As I sit here in my hotel tonight, I do not hear the din in the streets the way I usually do. It’s quieter, but the theatre across the road is open and people still spill from the doors, dash across the road to get their interval drinks and stand, sipping and smoking in huddled groups until Act 2. There is a normality here, what else could there be? This is home as it always was.
Am I being more aware, looking for sadness and signs of different, or did I not notice before? Feels the same to me, if a little more guarded. A little less trusting.
At no point have I felt afraid. This is a city that has survived for centuries. And like these magnificent French women, age, heartbreak and life’s worries are met with a toss of their coiffed hair, cultured experience and plenty of champagne!
Paris has a legendary motto ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’ – in Latin means, ‘tossed but not sunk.’ And she is still so beautiful.