Terror attacks changed Parisians, but failed to defeat them
Paris (AFP) –
On the night of November 13 2015, Paris was plunged into horror as jihadist killers launched simultaneous attacks on bars, the national stadium and a concert hall, leaving 130 dead.
If the bloodbath sought to crush the city's much-envied lifestyle of pavement cafes, boozy meals, skimpy skirts and partying, it failed.
Even as it mourned its dead, Paris defiantly resumed its traditional behaviour, recasting itself in its role as the City of Lights.
Tourist numbers this year have surged, testifying to the French capital's enduring allure. For the January-June period, hotels in the Paris region reported 16.4 million guests, the highest in a decade.
But emotional scars remain, and even the physicality of the city has in some ways altered.
"When I'm in the cinema, I tend not to linger just behind the entrance, and when I'm in the restaurant, I don't like to have my back to the window... I don't feel safe," said 39-year-old Aurore Humez, who admitted it was "horrible" to be so fearful.
Parisians these days are used to the sight of security railings erected in front of concert halls and concrete bollards placed on pavements and outside schools to prevent ramming attacks by cars or trucks.
Armed soldiers, typically patrolling in groups of three, also now seem to be part of the city's landscape. France has mobillised 7,000 troops to strengthen security in a mission called Operation Sentinelle.
Police -- a major target for the string of smaller attacks that have occurred since November 2015 -- routinely don bulletproof vests while on patrol and tout a gun on their belt.
Workers, shoppers and tourists are expected to have their bags searched when they enter offices, department stores, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral or other monuments and museums.
Jeff and Lauren Stieritz, an American couple aged 35 and 33 interviewed outside the Arc de Triomphe, said the attacks were still in the back of their minds.
They found that there were more police in Paris today than in their last visit seven years ago, but the city felt secure -- "It's not the Middle East!" said Lauren.
- Subway anxiety -
For some Parisians, there has been a small but indelible change in thinking, tinged by fear.
The metro, or subway, is one place where people seem to take special caution.
Posters and loudspeaker announcements repeatedly urge passengers to be vigilant and report suspicious items.
Stations are frequently closed temporarily while bomb squads examine a forgotten package or bag -- in 2016, there were 2,600 such callouts, double the figure of 2014.
Stephane, a 56-year-old man, said he scanned the the faces of fellow passengers to see if they were a potential risk, admitting to a twinge of regret that this felt like racial profiling -- the jihadist attackers had Arab ancestry.
"There's a stereotypical mugshot which has been applied to part of the population -- Frenchmen of immigrant background, usually young people, the ones who look like the guys who have been carrying out these attacks," he said.
Ahmed Alaya, 28, interviewed as he sat on a bench outside a mosque in eastern Paris, said he had had "problems with racism" on a few occasions.
"People have associated Islam with terrorism," he said sadly.
Other Parisians, though, said that, for them, life went on, and they did not feel trapped in the security treadmill.
"I didn't have the feeling that I was living in a dangerous town until my friends cancelled their stay," said Vivien Chazelle, 31.
© 2017 AFP