Despite staying within the confines of the local neighbourhood, the day after the Paris Attack was a strange but also curiously normal day for me.
It just so happened that I was in Paris representing Greenland this week at the kind invitation of Airbnb who were running Airbnb Open 2015. The event was a multi-day get-together for hosts and employees to learn about the latest trends in the sharing economy, travel, tourism and hospitality sector.
Today was supposed to be the final day of the event, but all activities were cancelled in the aftermath of the attack. We were advised by Parisian authorities to stay put where ever we were. So I stayed at home today with my caring hosts Geraldine, Hubert and their family.
To begin with I wanted to show this picture. My host family began a tradition recently where they wrote what they wished for that week on their water bottle. The last bottle had words like joy and love on it. Today, the new bottle had one single word inscribed: protection.
Their home is in the 19th district, relatively close to many of the places that were attacked last night… I had a scrumptious slow breakfast, watched the youngest kid paint leaves, and we attempted to discuss the horrors of the evening before. My host family were understandably shaken by all the events; later they also found out the dreadful news that they had friends who were victims in the terror attack. My heart goes out to them and all other people who have been affected by the event. Words can’t say much.
Anyway I stayed in my home…until I felt trapped. I felt like I had to get outside, although I still stayed within a 15 minute radius between Telegraphe and Jourdain metro stations. The rest of my day ended up being rather sombre but delightful. It was reassuring to see that shops and cafes were still open and people were leading normal lives.The only sign that there was an attack the evening before in this little area of Paris were posters pasted around the church in Jourdain and the church bells ringing longer than usual.
So this trip, I did not visit the Eiffel Tower (my third time in Paris and I still haven’t seen it!), nor did I do anything touristy. I wasn’t planning to do that anyway as there was no time for it, but I think I did something better: I managed to get a feel for life in Paris without visiting a museum or seeing any of the famous sights. I perused a few sweet bookstores and boutiques. I observed real life unfold in front of me as Parisians lined up at charming speciality stores to buy cheese, meat, seafood and pastries. I LOVE the small, original, small business culture they have here.
With help from my hosts, I got my hair cut at the most amazingly decorated hair salon I’ve ever seen, by an original hairdresser with his own methodology. From the very beginning the hair cut was an experience – it was located in a gorgeous flower store and it took half an hour for him to start our appointment! He deserves his own post, if I ever get around to making it, but what I will say was that I didn’t really get a choice as to how to cut my hair. Yes, really.
I also had the humbling experience of speaking with normal Parisians (like my hair dresser) about the Paris attack, many of whom are still reeling over shock of it. Some will never get over the loss of it. I felt fear, sorrow, heartbreak but within that also some hope in the goodness of people. Taxi drivers and regular people were driving people for free to safety and opening up their homes as refuges. The goodness in people is so apparent.
I don’t have any smart or wise conclusion to this little narrative. I just wanted to say that when tragedy strikes, life should go on as normal where possible, and I think that it did today for many Parisians. And I enjoyed experiencing life in a little microcosm on the outskirts of central Paris.
To end in a positive way, after a few hours outside I came home to find a painted leaf now decked in gorgeous colours, painted by Geraldine and Hubert’s youngest kid. It’s a bright symbol of hope, don’t you think?
PS If any of you are visiting Paris and want to stay with a host family, this one is lovely. They really are so genuinely kind and interested in you – and their home is gorgeous! I would never have stayed here if it wasn’t for the conference being located in 18th district, but actually it is situated nearby to some wonderful local Parisian neighbourhoods. And it only takes 20 minutes to go to the center of town with the metro. I came as a stranger but I’m leaving with such a special connection with them forged through the turn of events of the past few days.