**This post was originally written on November 14th, but I delayed the post because yesterday’s poem felt more right as the one to share first.**
Today I was going to blog about the incredible food here in Paris and had already prepared a draft in my head last night over dinner which by the way was out of this world tres bon! Super! Manifique!
However in light of last night’s incidents it feels irreverent to write about something as trivial as food. Even if that is why I started this blog. For all my foodie readers: do not fear, the post about food is inevitable and coming soon. For now, it’s impossible to ignore the devastating attacks from yesterday. When something like this happens, years later people still remember exactly what they were doing when they found out. The generation before mine remembers John F. Kennedy’s death that way. My generation remembers 9/11 that way. This generation will remember this one perhaps.
This is my account:
Friday Morning November 13th, 2015. N and I woke early as we have every day since our arrival—thank you jet lag. We ate a super early breakfast and decided upon glancing down at our now rounder bodies that we should go for a morning walk along the river. In the crisp early winter’s air, we walked towards the Eiffel Tower. City bikers passed us on their way to work, we assumed. Early joggers ran past us and we envied their dedication and residency. Early tourists stopped to take a million shots of the Eiffel tower. And I walked next to N hoping to be mistaken for a Parisian instead of a tourist. The sun peeked out from behind the Musee de Morderne for just a few minutes before retrieving safely behind the clouds to rest for the day. Calm. A little colder than Thursday. Quiet like an early Sunday morning on the streets of New York. We began our Friday.
After the intensity of sensory overload of India, once we walked out of Charles de Gaulle Airport, we decided to take it one day at a time. See what we want. Do what we want. Without pressure to do it all or do what you are supposed to do in Paris. So Friday, we woke and decided we would do a little shopping in the semi-hipstery part of town in Les Halles. Now, most who know me know me to be quite the shopper/shopaholic. But yesterday was not like my usual binging that I am so well known for. We calmly sauntered through the narrow street markets in Les Halles without worry of getting lost. I got an eclair like Mel suggested the day before. I practiced my sing-song “Bonjour!” and “Au Revoir, Merci!” as I entered and exited each shop. The objective wasn’t quite to get something but to absorb the moment. I was surveying the scene.
Any professional shopper would tell you first you survey, then you narrow down your options of authentic finds and one of kind pieces, finally try on and purchase. Since I was here for such a short time, I knew I would spend more time surveying than purchasing. Again, any true shopper would tell you that surveying can easily be as fulfilling as purchasing! So, we floated in and out of little boutiques admiring the accessories, shoes, clothes, sparkly things. About twenty minutes before we left Les Halles, I talked N into going to one last boutique…just in case we missed something. And there it was waiting for me. A black and gold embroidered skirt on the mannequin. I stood in front of it with reverence. Then, practiced “Puis-je l’essayer?” (May I try it on.) [Side note: I got N through India with Hindi and Telugu; His job was to study as much French as possible and get us through Paris] So I practiced it with him and then went in with my one phrase. To which the shop owner answered back in English: “It ‘ease’ the last one, madame!” “Then it is fate,” I said. I tried it on and instantly transformed into a princess. Purchased it and within ten minutes we were in our Uber back to the hotel to rest, before the single best dinner I’ve had in the Western world.
Friday night 7:30pm. We took the Metro two stops and walked through the residential part of Champs-Elyees. As we walked north, the streets got more quiet with few locals walking with their families back to their lush homes. La Coincidence was our final destination. We sat next to a family celebrating the arrival of a new bebe who was dressed in a tutu. Yes! An infant was in a tutu…only in Paris! As we ate our meal, N and I eavesdropped on the family and tried to understand the elegant tongue of local Parisians. After dinner, we walked, slower than before with our now bulging bellies, to the Metro and arrived at our hotel at 9:15pm. We took pride in the time of arrival—it was the latest we could get our over traveled and jet lagged bodies to stay up. I’ve never been one to push my body to do more than it can as you may have read on this blog on several occasions. This night was no different, even though it was a Friday night. I did want so badly to go to a Jazz club or somewhere to have a drink and listen to some local music. However, we were both exhausted from a full day of roaming the city. So we got in bed by 9:30pm—Yes, we are aware of our grandma/grandpa bedtime routine—turned on the tv to find that there had been a couple of shootings in the area. It was alarming, but did not seem too urgent. I told N that my mom would probably freak out and call us soon…which she did promptly at 10:15pm Paris time. And we slept in that deep satisfying slumber that only a full belly and jet lag can provide.
The first time my phone buzzed I assumed it was PG who is my usual late night text mate. (N jokingly/seriously says that I can’t go to sleep without my three P’s: Pillow, PG, and Peppermint Essential Oil.) I ignored her, I thought, and went back to sleep. But then it kept buzzing and buzzing and buzzing. Each buzz woke me enough to silence it, but nothing registered as I was in that beautifully deep sleep. Then it started ringing like a phone call. I was sure it was my mom freaking out again when I looked at the number. It was EBS. EBS from Nashville. Odd, I thought, why would she call me. She knew I was on Paris time. After the ringing stopped, I looked at my phone to find several messages urging me to contact them ASAP. The last two forced me out of my slumber:
“I’m only thinking the worse!” and
“OMG, tell me you guys are safe!!!!!! I’m totally freaking out.”
I replied to many messages before I even knew the depth of the attacks. The last phone call that I received at 2:30 AM was my mother-in-law who was almost hysterical and had been calling N’s phone and couldn’t reach us…we had silenced it…
Between my phone, N’s phone and Facebook, we had received so many messages that I couldn’t quite get back to everyone soon enough. Meanwhile, my husband remained happily sleeping and snoring. At 2:40AM, I finally woke and filled him in on what had happened just a few miles from our hotel. Instantly we registered the area and realized we were just there a day ago.
Here’s the thing: two days before we left for India, I had a horrible dream about an attack in India while N and I were there. I spent the days leading up to India in anxiety knowing that we were going to a country where there is more terrorism. We were to stay at the Taj Palace Hotel in Mumbai where the Mumbai attacks had happened years ago. Whilst there, every time we entered our hotels, security would check our cars—under the car, the hood, and the trunk. My purse got scanned every time I reentered and we went through metal detectors. At each tourist location and airport, we got completely patted down. So, although India is home, I am always aware that bad things happen there frequently. I also remember the relief I felt when we arrived in France. We knew security would be less intense and life too. It occurred to me that I am a little more West now than East.
So Saturday at 2:40AM, the irony sunk in. We had made it out of India safely only to be so close to danger in one of the best cities in the world. It’s easy to say we were lucky. It’s easy to say that for once my need for rest which always trumps partying kept me safe and helped me miss a most dramatic attack. However, reason is not important.
Instead I would like to share the top five things that have made me feel connected to this city, which I’ve fallen in love with:
1. The vibe—Parts of Paris are of course busy. It is a city after all, but the general vibe is chill. People aren’t impatiently walking past you like say New Yorkers or Londoners. People stand on escalators. Time is not the most important focus of this city.
2. The fountains—Spruced throughout several intersections are these stunning fountains that are still turned on even in November. They provide an ambiance that makes all the walking worth it.
3. Jardins—Okay now as a New Yorker, Central Park remains a part of my heart. However the Jardins in this city are different. Once you walk through the gates of a Jardin, you enter a serenity vacuum. A meditative space where all the sounds of the city dissolve into a celestial dome that is only the borders of each Jardin.
4. Cafes—As a writer and a hyperbolic romantic, a Parisian cafe is the closest I can get to heaven. With espresso and coffee that has layers of flavor, flavors that change your palette forever. Cafes are a symbol of the past and the present here. It is in these streets that so many world writers came to write, relax, and recharge. This culture is not something that any attack can take away.
5. The music and dance—the music scene here is badass and had I been less exhausted, I would have loved to experience it first hand. French hip-hop and pop would inspire any dancer! On our second night, we took an evening stroll around the Eiffel Tour area and ran into a group of Parisian girls. They had plugged in their iPod to one of the bicycle cabs radios and were dancing with such passion. It reminded me of all the girls trips I’d taken with MW and EBS when we spontaneously found a place to dance and sing and didn’t give a shit about who was watching.
It is said that one of the purposes of an attack like this is to create fear and enough anger against a certain group. When this happens, these groups are able to recruit more people. It is said that attacks on a major city allow these groups to organize in rural areas more freely. But these attacks have given me something else. In the short time I’ve had on this planet, I’ve been lucky enough to call two countries my home and to have been to a few countries as a tourist. So, I leave Paris with gratitude. Gratitude to have experienced it. Gratitude for my loved ones who love me with such tenderness. Gratitude in knowing that Paris remains standing so that I can come back because come back I will!
**Today we decided to pay our respects to the people who were injured or lost their lives on Friday night. Below are three photos taken at the memorials.**