Parisians love the outdoors. Not the communing-with-nature kind of outdoors, but the never-ending exploration of the living museum that is the city they call home.
Like an elusive lover who clings to mystery, Paris never completely reveals herself. It is a process of perpetual seduction. Even 13 years after moving here, there is always beauty waiting to be discovered. As I walk around a corner, I still anticipate that something pleasurable might happen.
There are also new relationships to forge. In my neighborhood, not far from the scene of last Friday’s deadly terror attacks on the concert hall and restaurants, there is a half-mile long street called the Rue des Martyrs, or Market Street, crammed with 200 shops, ateliers and bistros. I have walked on that street at all hours of the day and night, talking to the merchants and artisans on just about every subject.
After the attacks, yes, they were subdued — but determined to cling to the routine of daily life. They were all open for business the next day.
These shopkeepers are a remarkably diverse group, reflecting the demographics of the surrounding 9th arrondissement — and 21st century Paris. The greengrocers are Tunisian-born Muslims, the florist and antique dealer are Tunisian-born Jews, while the cheese-monger and baker and several butchers are all white Catholic-born Frenchmen with traditional sounding names. My neighborhood was once working class, with a large Jewish population. But, like so many swaths of Paris, it is growing ever more gentrified, as more young people with kids are moving in.
The alleged perpetrators of the attacks had vowed to make people afraid even to go out to their markets. It won’t happen here – as my neighborhood proved.
So it was deeply disturbing when President François Hollande declared a national state of emergency following the horrifying attack. No curfew was imposed, but the people of Paris were urged to stay home.
The Eiffel Tower, tourist-oriented shops on the Champs-Elysée, the Tuileries Gardens, the Gaumont Pathé movie theater chain, museums, Disneyland Paris and street markets were among the places closed. On Saturday, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores initially opened, Galeries Lafayette explaining that the move was a “symbol of its civic values and its will to resist in the face of terror.” But the two stores shut a few hours later.
In the most dramatic symbol that the city of light was in mourning, the Eiffel Tower turned off its lights as a sign of respect to the victims.
Yet in brave displays of defiance and normalcy, many Parisians refused to obey the call to cower. Parisians are proud owners of their public space.
Paris is a comfortably-sized city of visual pleasures. It is the home of flânerie — the urban pastime of liberation that comes with strolling, no fixed destination or deadline in mind.
Parisians sit on café terraces for hours watching the world go by, engaging in deep conversations about the meaning of life. A hashtag swept Paris on Sunday: #JeSuisEnTerrasse.” It translates literally as “I’m out on a terrace” — but essentially means “I’m outside enjoying the city.”
Outdoors is also the only place Parisians are allowed to smoke. They walk off their jobs and take to the streets to protest just about any governmental reform plan. They march en masse in solidarity with political and social causes they believe in.
So they brought flowers and notes of condolences to the sites of the terror attacks. They lit candles in impromptu vigils. They walked their dogs and ran their errands.
The cafes of touristy Montmartre were open for business beginning early Saturday morning. The food merchants on the Rue des Martyrs, just south of Montmartre, served customers all weekend — just as they always do. Notre Dame Cathedral, closed since the attacks, opened its doors to church-goers for a special Sunday mass.
By Monday, the capital displayed its resilience, as the three-day period of mourning ended. Schools, museums, theaters, libraries, gardens and even circuses reopened.
After the January terrorist attacks in Paris against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, more than 1.5 million people participated in a solidarity march. Their goal was to show unity with France, to honor the memory of those who had died in the attacks and to defend freedom of the press.
There has been no similar massive outpouring of support, since public gatherings in and around Paris have been banned and the manhunt continues. But the ban will be lifted on Thursday. It would be un-French not to do so.
Parisians will be free to do what they have always done in times of crisis: take back the streets, uniting to bear witness to what is only the latest act of terrorism in their country.”
Elaine Sciolino is former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times. She is now a contributing writer to the paper and author of a new book, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs.