“Travel broadens your horizons”
“Travel opens your eyes to new experiences”
“Travel is fun and it enriches your life”
These are probably some of the most common things you’ll hear from someone who loves to travel (I know this because I’m guilty of it) and while they may feel cliched, I honestly believe them to be true. I’m not one of those people that likes to distinguish heavily between “tourists” and “travellers,” trying to rank how “authentic”* your experience was or was not, and I don’t care about the number of countries you’ve been to. There are people I know who have never left the province, let alone the country, and they’re some of the most kind hearted, empathetic, intelligent people I’ve ever met while others boast a hefty country count and still, all they ever do is remain well within their comfort zone, so no I don’t think travelling makes you inherently better. What I do believe however is that if you are fortunate enough to travel, and you do so with an open-mind you have the potential to experience something great that can change how you view the world and your place within it. My travels this fall had exactly this effect and provided me with an incredibly eye-opening experience, which is what I would like to share.
Advisory: Please proceed with caution. Before we go further, be warned that I am about to descend into one of the most self-involved posts to date (haha, which is saying something considering this is a personal blog!) that will serve primarily as a love letter to Paris.
Growing up, my family and I did a fair bit of travelling together, usually around Canada, the United States, and Asia. Even though we usually travelled together as a family of five, very early on my mom and I began the practice of periodically taking special little trips together, just the two of us, to New York City and London. When I graduated from my undergrad in 2008 my mom and I were supposed to have another one of these mother-daughter trips, this time to Paris, a place that embodied something magical for both of us. The wheels were put in motion when suddenly, due to unforeseen circumstances, our trip was put on hold for a few months. Those months turned to a year and then that year turned to several years, and it seemed that every time we attempted to make our foray to France, something was put in our way. This was true for any time that D and I tried to make it to Paris as well, and it felt as if the universe was telling us, “hold on, not yet.” (I realize this is very much a privileged, first world problem to have.)
My dad, knowing how important Paris was to both my mom and I, often encouraged us to go visit. I think deep down in his heart he would have loved the city but he often claimed that the visit would be lost on him and that he would prefer that my mom and I go in his stead; he could get everything he needed from our stories and photos. Through this process of having our Paris plans constantly interrupted, the lure, or perhaps lore of Paris continued to grow in my mind, making it a place that seemed slightly out of reach and thus all the more enticing. Forbidden fruit syndrome, as D would like to call it. So, and I think you’ll all know where this is going, when my dad passed away, it suddenly felt as if we owed it to him and ourselves to finally go, which is when my mom and I decided to start planning. Not one for being left behind, D insisted that he come along and so we planned to go, the three of us. (D and I are accustomed to travelling with one another’s families, having visited the east coast of Canada, New York, and the Caribbean together.)
Having spent many March breaks and summers in Europe, D had a much more in-depth knowledge of Europe than either me or my mom (other than the United Kingdom, I’ve only been to two places in Europe: Denmark and Sweden) he was put in charge of creating the itinerary and what an itinerary it was: Paris to Brussels and Brugge before heading to Amsterdam. Our tickets were booked and accommodations made; we were to fly out on November 25th and arrive in the morning of the 26th.
But then, just two weeks out, on November 13th, Paris was attacked. We reacted as many others did, with shock, horror and sadness at the number of lives lost and disbelief at how France and its ideals had been so violently assaulted not once but twice in a single year. We contacted our friends with families in France and once again, it felt as if the universe was saying, “not yet”. However, after a brief talk, we decided for the first time to ignore the message that had held us back in the past, and to forge ahead, even though we had reason not to and even though everyone had offered us refunds on our bookings. I’m glad we did. At this point, I have to say that I’m not comfortable with “disaster tourism” or visiting sites that have recently been in the news for one reason or another but what I do know is that tourism, in some ways, can assist with recovery whether through finance or the attempt to return to normalcy.
When we landed in Paris on November 26, you could tell the city was still reeling, and rightfully so. The mood was certainly heavy and with the presence of armed guards everywhere, there were constant reminders of what had just happened two weeks earlier. But more importantly, what we also saw and experienced first hand was the resiliency of the French people and their joie de vivre. Staying in le Marais, we joined Parisians and other tourists on the side walks at their cafes to drink coffee, and we enjoyed long dinners in their restaurants, toured the sites that populate Instagram feeds and travel magazines, and we had a great time doing so.
One afternoon, after visiting Musee D’Orsay, I went to a parfumerie, and struck up a conversation with the shop owner. We talked for a good twenty minutes and at the end of our conversation she thanked me for coming to Paris because in light of the attacks, she knew many foreigners had changed or cancelled their plans. She followed up her remarks by saying that life was to be lived, that we wouldn’t kowtow to fear, and she even told me her plans to go to the cinema after the work. I could sense very much that her words were meant to comfort me as much as they were to reassure herself. Perhaps if the words were repeated enough, they would be true. I told her there was no need to thank me, all I did was decide to go on vacation which required absolutely no bravery or strength of character on my part; it was me that owed thanks to Paris for being so wonderful.
It was only after I left the shop, that the weight of our conversation began to sink in. As someone who has always been highly sensitive to this, I realize that for all our differences, what many of us want is the same: love, family, friends, freedom, and a safe environment that allows us these opportunities but to witness first hand, the determination of the French people in maintaining these values was a revelation to me. Even though the shop owner’s confidence had been shaken, I knew it was something she very much believed. Given the year that I had, it was the lesson I needed to learn, and I guess after all the years of waiting, my patience had paid off because two months later I still can’t find the words to adequately express my gratitude.
Life goes on, you just have to accept it.
Anyway, the rest of our trip was equally extraordinary but at this point I feel like I’ve consumed so much of your time, I need to let you go. But thank you for listening. I’ll share more stories but probably in a more manageable way.
Proceeds from the sale of this single are donated to Sweet Stuff Foundation‘s “Play it Forward” campaign, which aids the victims of the November 13 attack. Unsurprisingly, my favourite cover is by Florence and the Machine ft. the Maccabees.
*The subject of authenticity is sometimes problematic for me. What constitutes authenticity? Who decides? Are cultures not constantly evolving and in flux? Yeah, I’m one of those annoying people.