As each year winds down, my wife, in-laws and I have a tradition of spending a late November weekend in Paris.
This ritual has become a much-loved calm within what is inevitably a frenetic last quarter storm.
Last year, by happenstance, we were in Paris on Friday November 13, the night that the lights of Paris dimmed, as terror struck the heart of the city of love.
As shared in my blog post of the time, it was a time that touched us all with a poignancy that has become a part of us. Through the tragedy, unity emerged. “Je Suis Parisienne” were words uttered by all, across the city and the world, as we came together to firmly, clearly, express our unwillingness to be scared away.
For us, having shared this impactful experience, it was more important than ever that we returned to the city of light, one year on. We went back to not only enjoy the beauty of the city, but we also wanted to observe, first hand, its revival.
It has been well documented that tourism to Paris and France per se, has taken a significant hit since the events. I have found this surprising, saddening, in fact.
During the past year, not once have I ever thought of not going to France. I had very much been looking forward to returning to a city that I treasure. It has, and always will be, the world's most romantic city. And as I found once more, my passion for Paris remains resolute.
As I looked out from my hotel room toward to Eiffel Tower, it glittered jewel-like in the stillness of the chill filled evening, I was struck by why it is also known as the world's most beautiful city. Every morning, ritualistically, I would go out to a local café for a coffee, which I then take with a stroll along the Seine. The spectacular city provides the grandest running commentary: the bridges, the spires of Notre Dame, the twinkling holiday lights, the balcony baskets of flowers, the delicate window frames and doorways, the accents of passing Parisians. Paris is a genuine canvas of natural richness of culture, art, life.
One of the reasons I have such great admiration for Paris is because of its strong respect for its history, both old and new. It nurtures, cherishes, and open-handedly shares it. Wandering through the streets of Paris is a historical journey, comprising layers of detail. You can literally “see” their stories along the way.
This time, walking these streets of quiet, elegant, innate human artistry, immediately I felt that, despite the tragedy, the city is definitely moving on. People are wandering the boulevards, gathering in bistros, getting on with life. This is their city and they will never allow its light to turn to darkness.
Justifiably, as we have seen throughout the world, security measures are evident. This is a new reality of life. But the mood in France is neither tense nor gloomy. Rather it is, as with all matters Parisian, part of the city's tapestry. Culturally, Paris remains awe-inspiring. My trip to see the Picasso - Giacometti exhibition at the Musee Picasso was in a word, inspiring.
For me, food also equally defines Paris, from its brassieres to baguettes and morning croissants. On this trip, it had never tasted this good. In a way, it felt as though returning to the city of love that I so adore, my senses were so heightened that my appreciation of Paris was greater than ever before.
Yet, for all that I so appreciated during this trip, it was the people, the Parisians, which fuelled my love of the city the most.
For all these reasons, and countless more, I wholeheartedly feel that now is the time to return to Paris. I am glad to be able to convey to you that 'la vie' undoubtedly continues, the heart of Paris beats strong and proud. Paris has lost none of its lustre. It remains as beautiful and resolute as it has always been. It remains the most absorbing metropolis on earth.
This truism was vividly, wisely, smile-provokingly brought to life for me when, during a walk, I stopped at the bronze sculpture of Charles de Gaulle, and the words of one of the inscriptions, from the General's war memoirs, struck me for their timelessness (translated from French): “There is a time-honoured pact between the grandeur of France and the liberty of the world.”
Now, is the time to visit Paris.
*Gavin Tollman is CEO for Trafalgar