Saturday, 21 November 2015

Faux Paris

I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people – Isaac Newton

Cruising past Eiffel Tower on the evening of 16th November 2015. 
It was a warm morning on the 14th November 2015 in the beautiful Swiss city of Zurich when I was awoken by the endless messages and emails coming in concerned friends and colleagues with the news that Paris was under siege by terrorists the previous night that left more than 100 people dead. One by one, I replied that my family and I were in Switzerland and that our hotel in Paris was booked for check in on 16th November.

Over breakfast before heading to the Swiss Alps, fear and confusions were everywhere when the BBC news reported that French authorities close its borders, Paris in lockdown, suspects on the run, more terror expected and etc. Should we change course or continue on to Paris as planned? Mom wasn’t in the mood for Paris but Yong and I were optimistic that Paris is safe. In the end, we still make it to Paris without any problem and in fact, not even a single road block, not a single man in arms in sight till we get to Arc de Triomphe.

Then, slowly, the feel of an empty Paris starts to creep in. The usually busy Champ de Elysees was unusually quiet. Tour buses that normally line the drop of tourists at Place de la Concorde were nowhere to be seen. Major tourist attractions, museums, art galleries and the opera house were closed to public. Even the gypsies that normally target unsuspecting tourists near Eiffel Tower were staying home.

Parisians, to the best that I know, has always retained a magical belief that the City of Light is impervious to any siege, civil disorder and military occupation. However, this time, Parisians are acting to the multiple attacks by terrorists on the night of 13th November with fear, bewilderment and generally confused responses. It is the second time in 2015 that mass killing by ISIS linked terrorist happened. As Sir Isaac Newton rightly observed, the madness of people can’t be calculated and Parisians are in defensive mode.

Only Galeries Lafayette conducts its business as usual. Tourist’s dollars, especially from Mainland China are hard to resist. It is like a mad house inside. Luxury goods were taken off shelf faster than a blink. And while mom was busy shopping, Yong and I slipped out, walked the 20 over minutes towards the Louvre for mementos of an empty Paris. At dusk, we head to Rue de Cambon for dinner before a cruise on Seine. Eiffel Tower was in tricolor instead of its usual yellow sparkle.

As I bid adieu to Paris, I am disappointed but glad that we are all safe and sound. This is not the Paris that I know! Faux Paris!!

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