Thursday, July 16, 2015

Visiting Paris Post Charlie Hebdo - Just As Beautiful As Ever

What do you think of when you think of France? Do you think of the incident at Charlie Hebdo or of Paris or wine, Impressionists, French cuisine, iconic landmarks?

Arc de Triomphe

We had booked our trip to France several months before the Charlie Hebdo killings occurred. After it happened, we considered canceling it, but with the placement of French soldiers and police at the major tourist sites as well as the Jewish schools and synagogues, we decided to go as planned. I reasoned that with the increased security, it was probably safer than it had been. Besides, we had been in Paris for a couple of days 42 years before and I was very excited to finally return.

Discover Tours (, free walking tours of several neighborhoods, were a highlight of our stay. All of the guides are Parisians who speak fluent English and most of them, many of them college students, are young adults. No payment is required but tips are strongly suggested. It’s the only payment that the guides receive.

The Discover Tour of the Right Bank provided a glimpse of the beautiful and elite of old Paris. This tour started at the Opera House and went to many famous sites including the Café de la Paix, the Tuileries, and ended at the Arc de Triomphe. There were about 25 people taking the tour with us but fortunately, the tour guide had a voice that carried well.

Opera House

the Grand Hotel

We also took the Marais  tour and were the only people on it. This gave us the opportunity to talk to our young guide and the two interns accompanying her that day. The guide’s boyfriend joined us later on the tour. We learned a lot about the Marais and also heard about life in Paris. Yes, it’s difficult for young people to find employment. Yes, it’s expensive to live there but there is a safety net. Each district of Paris is required to have Public Housing. The waiting list to get in isn’t as long as it is in most places in the United States.
Place des Vosges

public housing in the Marais

The young people providing the tour endorsed the French policy of laicite viewing it as a bulwark against religious persecution. Although women are forbidden to wear hijabs (headscarves) in some French public places, we saw many women wearing them as they walked through the Marais.

We saw Jewish people as well, religious and easily identifiable by their clothes, as well as nonOrthodox Jews. While we’d heard and read about increased anti-Semitism in France, we were fortunate not to witness it or sense it on this trip. This is not to say that it doesn’t exist, but it wasn’t as visible and palpable as it was for us last year in Hungary.

outside the Musee du Judiasme

The people we spoke to were upset by the increased military presence on their streets. Charlie Hebdo seems to be France’s 9/11. “You’ll get used to it,” I told them at the same time hoping that the proud French would not.

Despite any problems that may exist, Paris is still Paris and we had a beautiful time there.

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