Paris: A dream city even in times like these
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We had booked the train, imagined ourselves already in the picturesque courtyard of our hotel and our children had talked for weeks only about the Eiffel Tower - then the attacks of Brussels occurred. From one moment to the other fear replaced enthusiasm. Uncertainty repressed our anticipation. The horrific images from Belgium immediately brought back the memory of the November 13 attacks, as terrorists almost simultaneously slammed in five locations in Paris.
How crazy must a person be to visit Paris in times like these? Isn’t it irresponsible if we expose our children to possible dangers?
Uncertainty got an early lead in this decision duel versus optimism and we were about to postpone our planned dream trip to a better month. But when is this better month for a short trip to a city like Paris? When are you ever really safe?
Ultimately, a mix of probabilities (why should it just hit us?), financials (the hotel was not refundable) and cowardice (parents know what I mean) fueled our decision to just go for our special trip - and special it was:
Enthusiasm or fear - what has the upper hand?
Already our first walk after the pleasant ride in the high-speed-train showed it clearly: The beauty of Europe's past and the perpetual fear of a dangerous present currently stand face-to-face in Paris. Sacré Coeur, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe - the wonders and sights of Paris are equally visible as security checks, police patrols and soldiers armed with machine guns.
But how can you enjoy the miraculous and endure the fear? One thing is certain: repression and forgetting is impossible. For residents and visitors of Paris the possibility of another attack is omnipresent. The heightened security is noticeable everywhere. Somehow you permanently sense a certain tension in the air.
Those in favor of the equation "more security forces lead to higher security" will feel well protected. And of course one can only agree to this equation from a purely mathematical point of view. Nevertheless, for uns the question remained unanswered, whether it is really possible to keep Megacities safe. What is the true effect of police patrols in selected metro stations, if trains are passing in 5-minute intervals in a vast network with hundreds of thousands of daily passengers? How effective are random checks on individuals, if they consist of only a glimpse into the backpack of male tourists - while jacket pockets or photographic equipment remain unchecked and women are anyway above suspicion?
Of course, you cannot effectively control every Metro station, every single street and every passer - and if you tried it, it would be highly inefficient. But conversely, I (as a normal tourist with no security expertise) have my doubts, whether a particularly determined assassin - who would even sacrifice his own life – can be caught or at least discouraged by random checks.
Probably, real prevention of attacks is anyway not the primary aim behind the visible presence of policemen and soldiers – uncovering and averting plans of terrorists requires detailed work and certainly happens more in the background than in front of the Eiffel Tower. Are armed patrols therefore a sign to the residents and visitors of Paris that they can feel safe and continue their lives in a normal way? More than half of the Paris visitors that I asked this question indeed welcomed the police presence and occasional checks and enjoyed their holiday as if times were normal.
For me personally, "normal" looks different.
An ode to joy and repression
While I just questioned the effectiveness of patrols, even I did not feel unsafe or scared - and for the same reasons that I quoted a few lines above as an argument against the effectiveness of controls: As low as the probability is to find a possible assassin among the millions of people in Paris, so unlikely is it mathematically that a bomb explodes exactly at the place and point in time, when I happen to be there. Probability theory works in both ways.
Mathematics aside: Whether you trust your personal luck or the police, whatever your reason - fear must not gain the upper hand and even in times like these, fear should not hold you back from doing exciting things. Live your life, even if it is connected with risk - because it is hard to imagine a life without risk in the first place.
Our kids loved the French baguette and they chased soap-bubbles in front of the Hôtel de Ville. The Eiffel Tower was even higher than they had imagined it and the tourist-cheating “Hütchenspieler” at Trocadero impressed them much more than the soldiers with their guns. Whatever it is that attracts you to Paris - do it without fear: Enjoy a café au lait as a second breakfast, dance to the sounds of street musicians or enjoy a break in one of the picturesque sunny gardens.
This city is too wonderful to meet it with fear and should be enjoyed to the fullest – even (and especially) in times like these.