Last weekend a former colleague and I walked past Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and stopped to look up at these black and white banners. A few days later, I happened to be at Place de la République, which served as the starting point of the government-organized demonstration a few days prior. Pencils and pens, candles, flowers, and messages were scattered around the base. People stood quietly or discussed among themselves.The statue in the center of the plaza is Marianne, the symbol of France. Seated below her are three females representing Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, the country’s national motto. In Liberté’s hand someone had placed a pencil.The country is on an official state of alert. At every entrance of major department stores and malls are security guards checking bags of people entering. In metro stations, the police presence is less noticeable, though I wonder how many are in plains clothes. On entrances to certain buildings, including my library, are signs that say “Plan vigipirate,” indicating the high alert level in the Ile-de-France region.
On Friday midday two hostages were taken at a post office in Colombes, a suburb right outside Paris and only three train stops from Saint-Lazare train station. I immediately felt sickened, as I had one week before during the hostage takings. A couple of hours later, it was reported that the hostage taker was subdued and that no one was hurt. He apparently was deranged.
All of these are reminders that while for most of us here, life has returned to normal (the stores and main streets are certainly packed, as the big biannual sales have started), it is a new kind of normal.