Dispatch: An American in Paris


Travel Weekly contributor Jenny Hart was in Paris after the city was attacked. Her report follows.

I had just boarded my flight to Paris when the messages started coming through. "Where are you? What's happening? ARE YOU OKAY?"

It was Friday, Nov. 13, and the terrorist attacks that would take 129 lives were underway in France's capital city.

Nothing was mentioned during the 7-hour flight. I wondered what the airline staff knew.

I scanned the heartbreaking headlines as we disembarked and prepared myself for absolute chaos at Charles de Gaulle Airport. What I encountered was almost more disconcerting: complete silence. The customs officer wordlessly took my passport, stamped it, and shoved it back at me. I was on an equally quiet street just moments later, the loudest noise the buzz being my cell phone and its incoming flow of concerned messages.

When I arrived at my accommodations __ the Idol Hotel, a lovely music-themed boutique property in the 8th arrondissement __ I was greeted with an apologetic smile: "Welcome to Paris. I'm sorry this is the day you have to come."

Similarly, later that day when a cafe barista realized I was American, he shook his head and said earnestly in English, "I hope you are still able to enjoy my city while you are here."

I felt terrible guilt being apologized to, as if the experience of a tainted vacation could ever be worse than having one's home attacked. But I suppose to truly excel in hospitality, the patron has to be put first. And the service I received that day, at the hotel and the various venues I visited, was nothing short of exceptional. I was humbled by how serious the French took those responsibilities during such a perilous time.

The streets were nearly empty the entire day. Even in heavily populated areas, crowds were sparse. Paris, normally so beautiful and bustling, felt unshakably eerie. The Eiffel Tower mourned with its city, looking like a sullen, hulking mass in its blacked-out state. During my 30-minute walk home from dinner, I must have passed more than two dozen heavily armed police officers patrolling the streets. But I didn't pass anyone else.

The city started to wake up on Sunday, with more people out and the attractions taking hesitant steps forward. Notre Dame forbade tours, but allowed visitors to sit in the pews and pray. The Eiffel Tower also denied visitors, but brightly lit up the dusk sky. I let my emotions get the best of me while walking past both; at the Cathedral, my eyes stung with sorrow, and at the Tower, gleamed with pride.

As of today, Monday, Paris seems largely back to normal. The Metro stations were packed with commuters and sidewalk cafes spilled over. After a moment of silence led by French president FranÇois Hollande at one of the attack sites, many of the notable museums and monuments reopened, and the infamous Eiffel serenely displayed France's colors. Even in its darkest hours, the City of Light refuses to stay dim.

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