I was a student at an extension campus in Tours. At that time Americans were still loved. I could hitchhike (usually with a masculine companion, just in case) with an American flag on my backpack, and be sure of a pickup and a lively conversation and a drop-off in some Paris location where I would be pretty sure of a cheap overnight stay and quick access to a neighborhood boulangerie with wonderful croissants – the apex of morning delight.
Later I revisited Paris on business. I stayed in the 7me arrondissement, home of the American University, and thus accustomed to the eccentricities of American visitors. In between business meetings, which I reached via the Metro, I walked everywhere – to the Eiffel Tower, the Grand and Petit Palais, the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay (which I remembered as the Gare d’Orsay, before it had been repurposed as a museum), Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle. I was never in danger. I could speak French like a twenty-year-old, minus the slang. I was at home.
Still later I brought my husband along on a pleasure trip. I showed him Paris as if it were my home town – the Metro, Sacre Coeur, the bookstalls along the Seine, Bertillon’s ice cream. Later he gave me a diamond-and-gold pendant of the Eiffel Tower, wrapped in a box with the souscription “We’ll always have Paris”.
To me, Paris has always been a Safe Place, where I knew my way. Today, with the terrorist attacks, I am shaken. Why would anyone want to destroy something so beautiful?