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I Mourn With Paris, A City Where I Lived And Loved

16/11/2015 9:46 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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I watched in horror and shock with the rest of the world, as television and social media captured the terrorist attacks that struck Paris.

It was a Friday night, and thousands of residents and tourists in Paris were enjoying themselves, as they usually do. A soccer match between Germany and France was on and there was a concert where an American rock band, Eagles of Death Metal, was scheduled to perform.

But by the time morning dawned, hundreds had died. This is the worst attack to hit the city after World War II. French President Francois Hollande, who declared a state of emergency and closed the country's borders, condemned it as an "act of war" and pledged that France would stand firm against its enemies. The world stands united with Paris.

For me, the tragedy was personal because I am among the lucky people who actually lived in Paris, a city of revelry, beauty, style, fashion, magic, life, lights and pleasure.

"A part of me broke when I saw the images of the pain and the carnage... Because Paris is a city where you are meant to live, not where you die."

A few years ago my husband's company transferred him to Paris for six months. My son and I accompanied him and we lived the European adventure.

We had an apartment with a view of the iconic Eiffel Tower and I spent many happy hours watching it at sunrise, at sunset and at nights when it was lit up.

Paris is a cosmopolitan city with rich diversity. Mixed in with the haughty, aristocratic faces of the French were Africans, Muslims, Japanese, Europeans and South Asians, among others. The cafes with tables spilling out into the streets and the crowded subways were filled with multiple languages and dialects.

Among the noise, though, the language that dominated was French, which was spoken with pride, politeness and precision.

French baguettes were the most popular, most eaten and easily available. French newspapers were displayed prominently at newsstands and the work of French artists and designers was presented with flair and flamboyance up front.

When in Paris, you respected the French way of life and you adapted to it. This was conveyed with some arrogance and attitude, which combined patriotism and the belief that the French were superior. They also conveyed they were way smarter and way cooler than the rest of us.

The French are vocal, outspoken advocates for equality, liberty and justice and they do not hesitate to voice their opinions. People from other cultures sometimes find them insufferable because they are so unflinchingly honest and contemptuous of countries that suppress freedom and civil rights.

But I enjoyed the intellectual debates between the residents and politicians. I was also very amused at their constant insistence that France was the best country in the world. Period.

But all that fades as you get captured in the hypnotic charm Paris weaves around you. There's the breathtaking, awe-inspiring architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral, where you can visualise Victor Hugo's hunchbacked protagonist Quasimodo sitting and watching the city at night. There are the luxurious fashions and Louis Vuitton purses and bags on Champs-Elysees.

Then there's the much-celebrated cuisine: the intoxicating wines, exotic cheeses and flavoured coffees at cafes, the artistically decorated food at restaurants. And the stylish women who strut down the streets in jaw-dropping couture and very high heels... oh, the city is a place of magic and beauty.

We spent happy hours wandering around the streets of our upper-class Trocadero neighbourhood, trying out our newly learnt French words from our tourist book and shopping for groceries with gestures.

Paris seemed like a set from a movie. There was something ethereal and surreal about it. It seemed unbelievable to be there, walking elbow to elbow on the crowded cobblestoned streets with so many diverse people.

People came to see the Mona Lisa, they came to shop, and they came to live because Paris was living. Living in its most exotic and hedonistic form.

Paris exudes energy, life, laughter and merriment. All over the city, there are impromptu parties on the streets every night. There are artists everywhere. They mime, they paint, they play music, they do magic tricks and they dance.

And at the end of their performances, they walk to the audience, they bow and they present their hats to collect tips.

Street vendors will follow you to sell you souvenirs and miniature replicas of the city monuments. The most popular one is the Eiffel Tower.

It's a city where the intellectuals come to pay their respects and soak up the culture. Writers and artists believe this is a mecca for them to learn.

Paris is a city that lives, beats and thrives. Paris is a city where people come to lose themselves or to find themselves. They come to learn, they come to write, to paint, to design, to cook, to act and finally they come to become a better version of themselves.

But most of all, most people come to Paris to live.

A part of me broke when I saw the images of the pain and the carnage the terrorists caused.

Because Paris is a city where you are meant to live, not where you die.

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