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Why Paris Needs You — & You Need Paris — Right Now

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Photo: Getty Images.
On November 13, 2015 — the night of the Paris attacks — I spent the early part of the evening working on chapter four of my book. My husband Cédric had plans to dine with colleagues, and I was looking forward to a few hours of uninterrupted concentration. I had two months before I needed to submit The New Paris to my editor, and happily seized any spare hour or two to forge ahead. Just before 9 p.m., I finished up, hopped into the shower, and texted with a friend. Cédric wouldn’t be much longer, I thought, time to pack it in for the night. Then, the breaking news started to pour in via Twitter.

We were among the fortunate. Though he was only a few blocks from one of the restaurants targeted, and unreachable for hours, my husband made it home safely, albeit shaken. We live in the heart of the 11th arrondissement, close to the 10th arrondissement, and less than a 10-minute walk from the Bataclan. Considered one of the city’s preeminent hubs for dining and nightlife, and home to a host of tradesmen, food artisans, and open-air markets, our diverse neighbourhood is brimming with bon vivants, people who work hard and play hard. And that lifestyle, our lifestyle, effectively made us all targets.

Despite the ache and the admonishments from authorities to stay indoors in the days following the attacks, locals ventured out to their corner bakeries, took their dogs for walks, and chatted with neighbours in disbelief. They may have been scared, but Parisians weren’t about to stop living, socialising, and seeking out comfort in the ways that enraged extremists: in cups of coffee; in rounds of drinks; in meals shared with laughter and joy among friends.

While we didn’t have to mine for answers to explain why this section of town was targeted, we did have to figure out a way to move forward. That wasn’t going to be easy. For 48 hours, I didn’t think of my work, my book, my empty belly, or the obligations I was going to need to face the following week.

I was going to need to will myself into the role of someone who wasn’t crumbling to pieces and who could overcome adversity to write. That's what writers do, right? But could I rise to the challenge? It depended largely on how I would answer one salient question: What’s the point in what I’m doing? In light of what these attacks revealed about the city’s fractured identity, I questioned the value in my work. The book documents the spirited energy and creative class that foster change across many areas of Parisian life, but in telling positive stories of change, invention, and creativity, would I be dishonouring the victims or inadequately grieving? The process of writing a book is rife with enough self-doubt as it is without injecting instability and existential uncertainty.

The city doesn’t need prayers or heart emoji; it needs its admirers to book their travel and keep discovering what makes it such a special and dynamic place.

It was a few days after the attacks — when I was asked to contribute a sort of tribute-to-the-city essay for The New York Times — that I summoned the strength to write as a means of therapy. What I got out of the experience was much greater. It proved to be just the exercise I needed to look at my project from a different perspective. I returned to my favourite local café to reconnect with community and feel comforted as I wrote. One of the regulars, I learned, had narrowly escaped the Bataclan, and while she wouldn’t speak about it, she continued to go about her life, frequenting the café daily and taking the Metro as she did before. It was in her resilience and tremendous strength that I drew the mettle to focus.

Because, ultimately, the best way for any of us to move on and honour the victims was to keep living out our lives in concert halls, restaurants, bars, and public spaces, and not immure ourselves in our homes in grief. It’s why Sting reopened the Bataclan earlier this month, finishing a concert that was savagely cut short, why restaurants keep opening, designers keep creating, pâtissiers keep baking. The show must go on, and the city itself must go on being everything it was to the people who perished, and more.

But with a 16% decline in tourism, Paris has taken an undeniably painful hit. What it needs most to carry on its role as cultural cradle and gastronomic mecca are stories of hope and success, and a renewed faith in its people. My book, I realised, would contribute the right narrative of change in the capital, detailing a movement that began long before ideologies and wanton violence had interfered. What everyone cherishes about Paris — its people, its museums, its energy, and its tremendous beauty — can only survive for so long without the support of curious travellers. The city doesn’t need prayers or heart emoji; it needs its admirers to book their travel and keep discovering what makes it such a special and dynamic place.

We’ve all seen the articles exhorting us to travel abroad now, more than ever. They remind us that the probability of being harmed in a terrorist attack pales in comparison to the general risks in everyday life. But more importantly, traveling now is a way to keep the world turning, and to shore up empathy when it seems in such short supply. If the last two years — and the last two weeks — have underscored anything, it’s the power of fear. You can either let it prevent you from exploring the world, or travel to feed your curiosity and extend your solidarity to others.

My book won’t erase the trauma the city has endured, but it does champion the many things, people, and ideas driving it forward. They are café and shop owners, artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, and crafters whose very lifestyles and values were also attacked on November 13 and who need support, not only from locals, but from Paris lovers everywhere. The real test of the human spirit one year later, five years later, and decades later, will be how we protected and celebrated them.
Lindsey Tramuta is a writer and author based in Paris. Her book The New Paris will be released by Abrams in April 2017.
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