It is Christmas here in Paris, but a Christmas like no other before. We are living under a state of emergency, and things have changed here.
On the night of the 13th November, coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in the city, killing 130 people. Since then, the city remains in a state of emergency, as the government has decided to extend it for three months. Officially this means that all demonstrations are prohibited, police searches can be conducted without judicial authority, and people deemed a threat to national security can be placed under house arrest for twelve hours a day.
Existing in a state of emergency - even at Christmas time - must bring with it a little inconvenience and discomfort and the decree has taken its toll on the city. You start your day being joined by fully armed military police officers on your morning commute. This becomes a regular reminder that things are not back to normal, whatever that even means anymore.
When you enter the city, you notice it is quieter than usual. Paris has not seen the usual swarms of Christmas shoppers, gathering at the windows of Galeries Lafayette and Printempts, in order to admire the Christmas displays. These days opening your bag for inspection and being patted down by a security guard, when entering shops, has strangely started to become second nature. Inside, there are not the usual hoards inside, queuing at the tills.
On a Friday evening you often get a choice of seats in Paris' most popular bars and restaurants when once you would have had to have squeezed in amongst the crowds, especially at this time of the year. I recall speaking to a proprietor of a small brasserie about how quiet it was at the weekend. He remarked that it had been extremely quiet since the events and was even limiting the opening hours because he could not count on having enough customers to justify being open for usual hours.
However, don't think that Christmas has been cancelled here. This time it has a festive glow that provokes some much needed smiles. The past few weekends have seen numerous Christmas markets take place and there is no lack of festive cheer around with constant billing of gigs and events taking place.
This city has so much charm and personality in its streets, and even though these cobbles were targeted and shaken, they remain as solid and enchanting as ever; filled with everyday life.
One thing that will never change in Paris is the walk along the banks of the Seine on a cold December evening, looking up at the Christmas lights and the backdrop of Notre Dame on one side and the The Eiffel Tower on the other, remains as magical as ever. A friend recently commented, 'Sometimes I forget what a beautiful place I live in until I look up', so please let's not ever stop looking up. Paris will always be beautiful at Christmas, even in the aftermath of a tragedy.
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