The City of Lights is sparkling once more
With tourists returning in huge numbers and a host of exciting new projects underway, the French capital is having a moment again. What a difference a year makes.
This time last year, France was still reeling from the deadly Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, the most recent but not even the worst in what felt like an endless onslaught of terrorist activity since a rampage of terror in November 2015.
Children returned to class last September in the wake of an announcement that schools would begin conducting three security drills every year, including one in which an alleged assailant storms the premises.
And the country had torn itself apart, both over a ban on the burkini on some of its loveliest beaches and over its impending presidential election that threatened to put France in the hands of the far right. Last summer also saw the continuation of sometimes-violent protests against a planned new labour law as well as a garbage- and sewer-worker strike in Paris that did nothing to enhance the city’s desirability.
Not surprisingly, tourists were avoiding the City of Lights. In early August, 15 percent fewer foreign visitors had come to Paris than during the same period the year before.
And then, to add insult to injury, France lost the Euro 2016 football tournament, which it was hosting, in the final.
It was not a good time.
Paris: progressive and positive
Cut to now, just a few hundred days later, when things are looking decidedly different. Particularly from afar, France looks positively progressive and, well, positive.
For starters, France has the brightest, shiniest new leader going these days and, even if the French are not particularly enamoured with their fresh-faced president, for the rest of the world he is as inspirational as, say, Justin Trudeau.
And while there is no fooling oneself into thinking that the threat of terror is behind us, no civilians have been killed in terror-related attacks in France this year.
On the sports front, France looks like a shoo-in for the 2018 football World Cup and, indeed, a contender to win it, and Paris is set to host the 2024 Olympic Games.
The nascent school year seems to be starting off equally swimmingly. The Parisien newspaper declared Tuesday that la rentree (the return to school)had gone off (almost) without a single false note.
The cute factor is high too. A panda born at a zoo south of Paris is now one month old and feeding without a bottle. It is big enough to be the subject of aww-inducing photographs (newborn pandas are far from adorable). Expect pictures of Mini Yuan Zi, as the almost-cuddly creature has been named, with its godmother, First Lady Brigitte Macron, to hit the glossy magazines any day now.
Also for the set whose tastes run to cute, luxury goods company LVMH is spending $70 million (€58 million) to turn the Jardin d’Acclimation with its sweet little mini train and spinning teacups into a Jules Verne-inspired mega theme park.
The city recently inaugurated the latest stretch in its ever-growing network of car-free bike lanes, and the city-wide Velib’ bike service is in the midst of an upgrade that includes the introduction of electric bikes.
The offerings are also expanding for those who prefer pursuits a bit less hale and wholesome. The UK's Financial Times recently ran an article heralding the rise of craft beer culture in Paris. Meanwhile, for the naturists among us, a secluded area in a Paris park has been declared open for those who wish to relax without their clothing, at least until October 14.
All this seems to have resulted in an alchemy that foreigners can’t resist. Numbers released by the Paris Regional Tourism Authority (CRT) showed that Paris is likely to attract more visitors this year than at any time in the past decade.
Of course, the golden days of summer have not yet fully waned. With autumn will come fresh protests – already promised by labour unions and other civil liberty groups – and the new reality could look decidedly less sunny.
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