The Hotel de Ville, Paris (trans: Charlie Hebdo, honorary citizen of the city of Paris)
Food was far from my mind on this Paris trip--which was for business mostly--but which started with a departing flight just 5 short days after the shocking attacks on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. My alter ego France and Paris life was suddenly all over the news, all the time, with glaring blue/white/red headlines announcing all the time it seemed: "PARIS TERROR ATTACKS."
I could not believe that something so horrific had happened in a corner of the world that I know and love so well and so much--for the people, friends, and memories. Friends and family thought I was crazy to make the trip. To me, it seemed more crazy not to. I was not insensitive to their concerns and assured them of different ways to manage in case things were in fact as remotely awful as the news would have us believe. I thought of the shootings at high schools, movie theaters, and other public places in the US throughout the years. And then again, I had just barely missed getting side-swiped a few times in the past few weeks in crazy Austin traffic. But I also kept in touch with friends in Paris, asking how things really were. All felt fine--that hostage situation deal was a little worrisome they admitted--but they said please, do not worry.
After an early afternoon arrival in Paris on Tuesday via British Airways--first time trying out that Austin-London nonstop--I had much work to do so did not get out much at first those first 36 hours. When I did, it was hard to know if the streets were quiet only because of what had happened, or because it was January, after all, and it was grey and cold. Newspaper articles expressed concern about how all this would impact the infamous "soldes" -- those twice a year official sales where items are dramatically reduced.
I had no problem though marching myself out with friend Maureen that first night, and I was anxious to get out and about after being hovered over a laptop screen for hours. The sensationalist land of US television, with "PARIS TERROR ATTACKS" on every hour, did not relate at all to the quite stillness of the Place du Pantheon we passed on the way to the Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie for some natural wine and a much-needed food infusion.
Christmas trees in front of the Pantheon.
Below is the first glimpse of things being not a usual day in Paris as before: this signage in front of the Mairie of the 5ème. It was the first something I came across that related to what I had been seeing on the TV for days. It was jarring for the psyche to realize that I was in a place that had been, was, very newsworthy, and for not the best of reasons.
I would soon see the Charlie signs everywhere--including on t-shirts--and with various iterations.
By the time Wednesday night came around, as I walked back from an afternoon stroll waiting for a round of changes on a document I had just sent out, Paris felt more lively. Or maybe it was just me getting used to Paris in this different perspective, after all the US sensationalism and news I too had been watching, albeit from French news outlets.
This little stroll had been a short tour of the left bank to reminisce about the student days in Paris (1980s), and one of my favorite finds way back then: the Poilâne bread and tartines made with it at wine bar Au Sauvignon.
After my little interlude thinking about Paris then and Paris now, night had fallen. Time to get back to Ile St. Louis to meet a friend for dinner. The walk back took me by familiar sites.
Slowly things started to feel more "normal" like the more seemingly carefree Paris before Charlie Hebdo. Yes, there were a few guards here and there on the way to Chez Janou, which reminded that Vigipirate (France's national security alert system, around for decades) was ongoing (not all that different from previous trips). A comfy meal at Chez Janou (confit de canard!) helped getting back a regular Paris vibe. And by the next day, at a meeting in the 2ème of Paris, all Paris was aghast at that Fox News report about "no go" zones in Paris, which also helped bring some levity. The program made the rounds fast in France, leading to some hilarious spoofs on French TV. I read that Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo was filing a lawsuit against the station for tarnishing Paris's image. It seemed Paris was back. At least my perception of a Paris with a sense of everyday normalcy was back.
I would not be around much longer to see the upward trend in mood. It was off to Austin's sister city Angers and the reason for the trip: representing Austin along with Austin Film Society at the European "first film" festival, Premiers Plans. Angers does this festival spectacularly well. Though a big screen with an audience is the best way to see and hear it, the exuberant "bande-annonce 2015" that ran before every screening here. And if I had cancelled that trip, I would not have met and chatted briefly with Gérard Depardieu--thanks to the Mayor of Angers introducing us as Gérard was lunching next to our table with the film crowd. And I would not have figured out that those crazy movies I somehow watched at an impressionable age were Bertrand Blier movies--whose work was a featured retrospective at the festival--and who along with Jérôme Clément, founder of Arte, and Claude-Eric Poiroux were all there at the festival, all milling about at some of the same events I was invited to attend.
By the time I came back to Paris post-festival time, it was way more about the food. And that is why I am on Day 3 of another 21-day cleanse.