Every time I turn on the news or open my Twitter account I am reminded of just how volatile life is, not just in Europe, but everywhere. France has been in a state of emergency since the terror attacks just over a year ago. But there is a strong sense of solidarity among Parisians, who have taken back the streets. When Parisians were asked in a survey their favourite thing to do, the most popular answer was “walking in the streets.” Even more than sex. Apparently Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast has become a bestseller since the attacks.
I am now used to walking by young soldiers in khakis with automatic weapons across their chests every morning when I take Emmanuelle to school on the Champs Elysées. They are guarding the Elysée Palace and the Israeli embassy. When a car enters the embassy gates, they use cameras on large versions of selfie sticks to check for explosives in the undercarriage. Since it is early and we are usually the only ones on the street I am tempted to say “Bonjour” to them. But is it normal to say hello to a guy with a loaded sub-machine gun?
Charlotte’s school has its own private security company at the doors at pick up or drop off and you must have a school-issued red card with your child’s picture on it to collect them. No red card, no child. The children shake their teacher’s hand goodbye and are handed off one by one at the door.
Since 1978, France has established a national security program called Vigipirate, an acronym that stands for “vigilance and protection of installations against the risk of terrorist bombings.” I am now used to opening my bag for security at almost every store I go into. Getting into a museum is almost as high security as the airport. Still, when the Metro stopped mysteriously between the Eiffel Tower and Iena, and we were trapped underground for 15 minutes the other night, I was a little nervous. Someone had indeed pulled the emergency alarm in a train in front of us, but all was resolved and we were on our way.
Our strategy is to be hyper vigilant about our surroundings, to avoid crowded tourist areas and to go about our life as normal. When there was a knife attack at the Louvre a few months ago, Murray texted my repeatedly to make sure I was safe. I was, because I was not waiting in line to see the Mona Lisa. I was in the middle of my Pilates class.