The Eiffel Tower dimmed its lights over Paris Saturday night in sorrow over the terrorist attacks of Nov. 13, but for many of us, the city’s luster remains bright.
Judging by the unscientific evidence from my personal Facebook and Twitter feeds, people took to social media to show their support by superimposing the French flag over their profile pictures and posting eloquent images of the Eiffel Tower imbedded in a peace sign and of demonstrators in the streets of Paris with the words “We are not afraid” written in lights.
More importantly, many friends and followers expressed their intention to pack their bags and fly to Paris at their earliest opportunity.
“Nothing will stop me from visiting Paris,” is a refrain I saw repeated more times than I can count over the weekend.
And while I also saw debate on why similar outrage wasn’t expressed about the massacres in Beirut and Ankara, it’s fair to say that, speaking purely from a travel perspective, this attack struck a nerve.
Much of this outpouring is simple empathy that a city many of us have visited should go through such horror. As Americans, we’ve been there. We can relate.
But the frenzy that anyone would dare attack Paris goes beyond that.
What is it about this city that inspires such devotion?
I lived there as a child and again as a young student, so my infatuation is understandable. But my daughter, who last year spent a semester in Paris taking the same course at the Sorbonne I had done so many years ago, fell just as hard under the city’s spell in a few short months and has been peppering me with emails about her desire to visit “right now” to show solidarity to the city that so captivated her.
Other reasons people love the destination are even simpler than that.
Paris is beautiful. It’s arguably the most beautiful city in the world.
It even looks good in the rain.
And there’s the food, the art, the bridges and, of course, the Parisians with their insouciant chic.
Sure, there are some boring areas where franchise stores have encroached where once tiny boutiques reigned, but other quartiers have resisted such defilement. Spend a sunny afternoon at Place des Vosges or stroll through the Rue Mouffetard market, for example, to see what I mean.
Simply put, visiting Paris is a lifelong dream for many people around the world. It’s the holy grail of travel destinations.
No one is saying that what happened last weekend isn’t a game changer. Unlike the Charlie Hebdo attacks, these were soft targets chosen seemingly at random — cafes, a concert hall and a sports stadium where tourists could easily have found themselves.
And there were Americans among the victims. A young girl my daughter’s age on her study abroad semester was among the dead.
Will tourism suffer? Probably. Disneyland Paris took the unusual step of closing for several days after the massacre, a state of emergency was declared and the borders were closed. The airports and most other modes of transportation remain open, however, according to the French Embassy, which has posted information for travelers on its website.
There will be some who just won’t want to take the risk, even though we know that our own cities are vulnerable to exactly the same kinds of attacks.
But there are others who are more determined than ever to show up, if for no other reason than to thumb our noses at those who would keep us away.
As for my daughter and me? Our bags are packed.