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The Last Time I Saw Paris

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Following the terrorist attacks,
Parisian landmarks were alit in the blue, white
and red of the French flag

Julianne Lowenstein ’17 is spending fall 2015 studying in Grenoble, France, about 300 miles south of Paris. Following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks on the capital, her phone was abuzz with text messages from concerned family and friends. Julianne was safe but faced a difficult decision: visit Paris the following week as planned or cancel the trip? In the end, Julianne went to Paris and shares her impressions of the city:

Two words: security and empty.

Why these two words? Well, I guess it’s kind of obvious, but everywhere you turned there was the national police, rifles in hand, waiting in case they had to take action. In one sense it made you feel safe, but in another it was kind of scary.

All the stores and museums checked bags before you were allowed to enter. At the Chateau de Versailles, my bag was checked before entering the gates to buy my ticket, checked again at the entrance, was put through an X-ray, and I had to walk through a metal detector. I really appreciated all these measures and I really did feel safe during my visit.

Empty.

Imagine walking in New York City and being the only one there, prancing into Times Square and not having to wait in line for anything. Yeah, impossible. But that’s exactly what happened that weekend in Paris.

People were able to go into the Louvre and walk right up to see the Mona Lisa, a process that normally includes pushing and shoving and waiting for hours.

I was able to waltz right onto the elevator and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower and take pictures without having to push in front of anyone.

This was my first time ever going to Paris, but from what I’ve heard, the city was the emptiest it’s ever been. Parisians didn’t want to leave their homes, so if you did see people, they were most likely tourists.

“Instead of looking for the horrors, living in fear, and expecting the worst, why don’t we stop once in a while and just appreciate the beauty around us.”
-- Julianne Lowenstein '17

I did not go to the memorials from the attack, and I did not see the Bataclan or the road that was attacked, mostly out of respect for my program director, who asked us not to go near these sites.

I was, however, able to see the unity of the city through the smaller things – flowers popping up on the side of a building or under a memorial sign, and the Eiffel Tower and other buildings lit up in blue, white and red.

I didn’t feel that I needed to visit the sites of attack in order to do my part, to pay homage to those affected. I like to think I did my part in not being afraid, in visiting the city when so many others canceled their trips.

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Julianne Lowenstein '17 found usually crowded Parisian landmarks, including the Arc de Triomphe, nearly deserted

I use the term “not being afraid” very loosely here, because in fact, I was a little scared, a little nervous. What if something were to happen again? I did not think it was likely, but I was still a little on edge the whole weekend, making sure to be very aware of my surroundings at all times.

There was one moment when I was afraid. It happened after visiting the Catacombs [the labyrinth of tunnels beneath Paris that is home to the skeletal remains of an estimated 6 million people]. Fitting, right? I was with a friend and we were about to hop on the metro to head back, when we saw a sign that read “Colis suspect.” Then a text came in, “Suspicious package found… possibly bomb.”

We ran out of the metro station because being underground was not the best idea considering the circumstances. We called our program director. She very calmly explained that this was actually happening almost every day in Paris since the attacks. They were being very cautious, as they should be, as even an unclaimed package could be considered dangerous.

I was fine and had nothing to worry about. After I calmed down and was reassured that everything was OK, I hopped onto the metro and made my way to dinner.

We had the opportunity to take a guided tour through the steeped-hill neighborhood of Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement. While walking we met a 91-year-old woman who has lived there all her life. We stopped at a road that used to be a dirt path and she stopped alongside us because, as she explained, she stops every time she passes because she cannot give up the opportunity to appreciate such a beautiful view. Every day she sees people passing by, looking at their phones or just rushing, and she’s always upset that they don’t stop to take in the view.

This woman, who was hiking up and down hills throughout the town at 91-years-old, really inspired me. Isn’t this what we should all be doing? Instead of looking for the horrors, living in fear, and expecting the worst, why don’t we stop once in a while and just appreciate the beauty around us.

Julianne Lowenstein is a French and early childhood education major studying abroad at the University of Grenoble in fall 2015. Follow her adventures at her blog: https://juliannealamonde.wordpress.com/2015/.

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