Paris, and Change

I’m not a fearful person, generally.  I’m afraid of heights, and there was a time when I was afraid to fly.  But both of those things are normal, no?  I’m afraid that bad things might happen to my children.  There’s cancer, of course, and when I was single, HIV.

That’s the limit of my fears.  Well, OK, I also fear that I will die before I’ve made anything important of myself, but I suppose that’s normal, too.

I’m an American, and to some extent, I’m desensitized to random violence.  I’m that bitch who rolls her eyes and mutters “C’est la vie” and has another glass of wine.  My husband lost coworkers and a best friend in 911, and he watched the whole thing happen from a few blocks away.  So forgive me if I say things like, “Get back out there” and “Don’t show them we’re afraid,” and “Damn straight, let’s take back our terraces!”

I’m so brave.

But let me tell you what it’s really like.  I’ve carried a Navigo card for two years.  For seventy euros per month, I whiz past all of you tourists at every Metro station and think to myself, “They must think I’m a Parisian.”  I’ve read entire books in a few days’ time just sitting on trains.  The Paris Metro has transported me from Saint-Germain to Montmartre to Batignolles to République, Bastille, So-Pi, Le Marais, Passy, the Latin Quarter, Beaugrenelle, and everywhere in between.

A week ago on Friday, a truly evil thing happened in Paris.

When I get on the Metro now, it’s only after I’ve forced myself to be so late for an event that the only way I’ll make it there on time is to take the Metro.  On Monday morning, I actually took two buses through rush hour traffic before I realized I would miss the whole first half of my French class, forcing me to abandon the bus and make a mad dash for the Metro.  Today, I avoided the Chatelet station by bailing at Palais Royale/Musée du Louvre because I had gotten a text warning yesterday that Chatelet was temporarily closed for a suspicious package.

I’m not alone in my thinking.  The Metro has been eerily quiet this week.  I almost always find a seat.  Instead of their noses buried in their phones, commuters look around the trains.  They make eye contact.  They stare at your bag.

And where are the tourists?

I hear sirens constantly.  I’ve been hearing sirens constantly since I arrived in Paris two years ago, but the difference is that now I hear sirens even when there aren’t sirens.

When the police or the gendarmes or the military walk past me, traveling in teams of three, toting machine guns and wearing camouflage, fear finds a little home somewhere between my esophagus and the back of my tongue, and I have to swallow to wash it away.  I remind myself this isn’t new.  I just look at it differently now.  I wish I didn’t have to look at it differently.

I need to memorize my husband’s mobile phone number, my son’s mobile phone number.  I keep forgetting to do that.  I wish I didn’t have to do that.  My husband is on a train right now that will go through the Chunnel in about thirty minutes, and I’m thinking about that.  Usually, I don’t think about that.

I haven’t changed my life since Friday.  I’ve logged dozens of miles this week.  I’ve traveled to the city center every day.  I’ve sat on a terrace with friends drinking champagne when I should have been at home cooking dinner for my family.  I’ve jogged in the Bois de Boulogne and the Parc Monceau.  I’ve walked around the Arc de Triomphe and under the Eiffel Tower.  No, I haven’t changed my life since Friday.  Not much.

But this life - life since Friday - has changed me.  It’s changed everyone I know here in Paris.


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