We love visiting Paris in December when the Christmas lights adorn many of the city’s landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Saint Germain, the ferris wheel on Place du Concorde, etc. and when there are relatively few tourists to detract from the city’s charms.
However, this December proved to be a different, less comfortable experience for three main reasons. Firstly, we were visiting the city exactly a month after the November attacks which were responsible for 130 deaths. There was a noticeable armed security presence at various points in the city, and the Place de la République, which was the focal point for subsequent public demonstrations of solidarity, still contained a large array of expressions of grief and sadness, as well as social and political comment.
On the Friday evening, after enjoying a meal in the 11th arrondisement, the streets and cafes seemed as lively as ever, but as we turned a corner on Rue Charonne, we were confronted by the huge collection of tributes left outside La Belle Équipe restaurant where 19 people had died. The personal messages, pictures and flowers combined to create an intense feeling of tragic loss.
The shoes left at the scene of the Place de La République were the remainder of a silent protest to mark the presence in Paris of the Climate Change Conference. Street gatherings had been outlawed by the state of emergency imposed after the November 13th killings, and so 10,000 pairs of shoes were left in the square as a form of symbolic protest, a few of which remained when we visited.
Whilst emerging from the metro at the Arc de Triomphe, we noticed traffic was barred as a large team of tankers sprayed water around the famous landmark. Rivers of yellow paint were running down the streets leading from the Arc. It transpired that Greenpeace had flooded the area with the paint as a publicity stunt aimed at the Climate Conference. From above it was meant to symbolise the power of the sun.
We came across another artistic response to the threat of climate change at the Pantheon where an Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, had installed a dozen large blocks of ice (or ‘mini-icebergs’) which were gradually melting during the Climate Change Conference.
Needles to say there was some concern expressed about the energy consumption used to transport the ice all the way from Greenland to Paris.
It was evident from the array of political posters adorning the city’s billboards that there were important regional elections taking place, and in the first round the Front National had performed (not too surprising in the aftermath of the November attacks) to the dismay of many in the capital.
They were less successful in the final round of elections the following week, but had still managed to poll more votes than in any other national election in France.
On a lighter note, there was much evidence of the popularity of Frank Sinatra, as on December 12th it was 100 years since his birth. We marked the occasion by watching his 1968 film, Detective, at the Cinema Mac Mahon, which famously featured in Jean Luc Godard’s 1960 classic new wave film, A Bout de Souffle.
Finally, a few Winter images of our favourite Parisian park, the Luxembourg Gardens, which whatever the season, never loses its appeal.