PARIS — Bastien Salva spent last July in New Orleans as an intern at the Louisiana State Museum’s Presbytere on Jackson Square.
A week after the Friday, Nov. 13, massacre by ISIS terrorists, my husband, Keith, and I had lunch with Bastien in Paris.
He’s 23, living in a tiny attic apartment and dreaming of heading a fashion museum while he studies at L’Ecole du Louvre in the museum. Right now, while some of his friends are “freaking,” he’s trying to cope. “I am taking the Metro twice a day. The Louvre is full of tourists, and a place to attack, but I cannot be afraid. They want us to be frightened. And we cannot live like that.”
Keith and I shared the sentiment of our young friend.
“Of course we’re going,” we’d told friends who asked if we still intended to travel to Paris five days after terrorists killed 130 people here.
“Thank you for coming,” said Patricia Miotello, the 60ish manager of reception when we checked into Hotel Mansart, a favorite small accommodation near Place Vendome. She repeated it several times. Concern showing on her expressive face, she told us of a police raid on terrorists early that morning. “The terrorists are killing tourism, too,” she said. “Everyone is feeling it.” The Mansart already had 170 night cancellations just for November.
A block away, a waitress at Brasserie Royal Vendome, where we ate pate de foie gras, grilled salmon and a warm apple tart, told a similar story, as did the maitre d’ at Le Procope, an antique restaurant on the Left Bank. Frustration in his voice, he said there were banqueting cancellations for 500 people. We went there after Bastien recommended it, and Keith found a deal on the French Tourisme website: three course dinner and a Seine cruise, $40 apiece.
There’s a camaraderie among survivors after a disaster, as New Orleanians learned after Hurricane Katrina. It’s happening now in Paris.
I admired a handmade paper badge worn by a staffer at Musee D’Orsay, and she took it off and gave it to me.
We went to D’Orsay after reading about “Splendors and Miseries of Prostitution: 1850 to 1910,” an exhibit running through Jan. 17. Crowd barrier ropes were up, but there were no people waiting to see the extraordinary 15-room exhibit with items from Impressionist paintings to peep show films, the latter behind maroon velvet curtains with signs warning no one under 18 allowed.
I didn’t think about terrorists there, or afterwards over sweet Thai chicken soup and an almond tart in the museum’s fifth floor cafe, so busy on every other visit that we’d never waited for a table. Nor did I let them intrude in my thoughts at the newly renovated Rodin Museum, where I saw my youthful favorite, “The Kiss,” and discovered new admiration for the artist in his depictions of Balzac and other older people, complete with sagging marble or painted skin.
Police and troops carrying guns were intentionally obvious on streets and in Metro and train stations, and everyone looked when white police cars passed with flashing blue lights and sirens. By the third day they all were just part of the Paris experience.
I enjoyed getting to know Bastien, who had stayed with his family at Madewood Plantation House, my husband’s bed/breakfast/dinner inn near Napoleonville. “You came in July, the worst time of the year,” I said. “It was my dream come true,” said Bastien. “I had read books about Louisiana and New Orleans for years, the French roots, the plantations, slavery, but I wanted to see with my eyes and smell it myself.”
Effusive about his experiences in Louisiana, and wanting to share his Paris, he urged me to sample the homemade mayonnaise with his shrimp. And talked about cultural differences. “Here, it is considered rude when someone comes up and asks, ‘Where is the Louvre?’ You should say, ‘Hello’ first.” We laughed.
But we both were serious when I asked if he wanted to come with us to Place de la Republique where crowds have gathered to pay homage to the victims of the Nov. 13 massacre. I felt a need to go. Bastion hesitated, and said he had eaten dinner three weeks earlier at Le Carillon, where diners were murdered. “I’m not ready to go to Republique yet,” he said.
So Keith and I joined dozens of others in a drizzling rain. One young woman leaned over to light a votive candle in front of a teddy bear; someone had placed an umbrella over other candles at the base of the statue symbolizing the French Republic. There were masses of flowers and signs. One read, “Your wars, our deaths.”
Most of us took photos, but respectfully, without speaking. Set back several yards were at least 25 white tents protecting TV cameras. Behind them were trucks with satellite dishes ready to broadcast to the world what we were experiencing by being here in Paris.
I thought of Keith’s comment when we drove by the French National Assembly colored at night in blue, white and red lights. It was breathtaking.
“There’s such a big difference in how you see things on TV and how you feel when you see them with your eyes,” he said.
Just like Bastien said about Louisiana.