On Thursday I arrived in Paris. Staying at the Hilton Hotel was of course the basis for more jokes than it should have been. But that was where the fun and childish silliness ended on this particular trip. Because alongside the obligatory sightseeing and posh lunches, the city of love was under stress, as divided as Britain by Brexit.It was an odd time to be in Paris. You could not walk inside a shopping centre without having your backpack searched and being subjected to a metal detector body scan on the way in.
With the French general election due to take place in just a few days, we met a CNBC news crew, who’d flown in that morning from New York City to cover the election. They had just returned to base after a day of filming Man On the Street footage for the news. America was as worried as everybody else about Marine La Penn and her French National Party.
While Maaya had been vocalising her concerns about our own snap general election and it’s apparent ‘pick your poison’ nature, David, the CNBC news cameraman had quipped back, “Just thank the Lord you don’t live in the US,” which I think quickly and instantly reframed her mindset.
Of course on Thursday night as world news has now documented, a police officer was shot dead at the Champs Elysees, not a mile away from us, while two others had been injured. A lone gunman had opened fire apparently in aid of the so-called Islamic State group. But as Maaya and I made our way to a late dinner at the restaurant across the street at about 10:30pm, Parisians seemed unbothered by it. They were watching football. It was like any other night. And without BBC News and my mother sending multiple texts asking where I was and whether I was alright, I would have been none the wiser myself. It’s odd to think the news had reached Yorkshire faster than it had got across the road.
Apparently that’s the difference between the French and us British. We turn the tiniest little thing into a national catastrophe. Like when it snows in England! It’s the event of the year! The French get attacked by terrorists and apparently just plod on.
And it wasn’t over. On Saturday evening when we made our way back to Gare Du Nord to catch the Eurostar back to London, Maaya was the first to notice a large crowd of people including a couple of news cameramen outside the station. The station was closed. We did not know why, although it quickly transpired that it had been locked down and evacuated because another gun man was inside. I think the official story later reported by the Evening Standard stated that it had been a man with a knife.