Yes, we’ll always have Paris

One of the greatest cities in the world

One of the greatest cities in the world

More than a million gather around the City of Lights to make a stand against religious extremism and violence

More than a million gather around the City of Lights to make a stand against religious extremism and violence

By Wendell Gaa

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Just four words that were etched into cinematic immortality as quoted by Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman in one of the greatest films of all time, “Casablanca.”

Paris, France is one of the greatest cities in the world, when it comes to food, travel, romance, history, and, just about anything you can possibly imagine. Like most everyone around the world, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the recent tragic events in the city which resulted in dozens of people horribly murdered at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and that kosher supermarket at the hands of al-Qaida terrorists.

I was also emotionally uplifted upon watching on CNN the millions of people who rallied against the threat of terrorism in the heart of Paris just a few days later, where world leaders marched side-by-side leading people from all over France of different religions and races to stand up to religious terror. Bearing all of this in mind, I just couldn’t help but reminisce over my first and only trip to that beautiful European city way back in the summer of 1993, right before my senior year in high school.

At the time, my father was the Philippine envoy to Libya. After having journeyed through the marvelous Roman ruins of that fascinating North African nation, we naturally decided to change the tone of our sightseeing and hopped up further north across the Mediterranean Sea to explore the charming history and architecture of Europe, and what better city in the continent to coddle in such attractions than in, that’s right, you guessed it, Paris!

Our first stopover was in Rome, Italy. From Rome my father volunteered to drive our whole family inside a car graciously lent to us by one of our friends employed at our Philippine Embassy in Rome, Mr. Titus Inton. We traveled up north all the way to southern France in what amounted to be a 4-5 hour car trip. Once we had crossed the border, our trip lasted another 2-3 hours until we arrived in Paris. Staring at the scenic French countryside with its rolling hills and meadows, my Dad narrated to us interesting stories about the welfare of French farmers and the history of France’s agricultural heritage.

We finally arrived in Paris, and to no surprise, the city’s urban layout and architecture were as every bit as alluring, historic, hypnotizing, and yes, romantic, as I had expected. Within a mere couple of days, we had gazed at the iconic Eiffel Tower, strolled right along the Champs-Élysées all the way to the monumental Arc de Triomphe, viewed the beautiful River Seine, and in nearby environs, walked through the attractive gardens of Versailles Palace, and even checked out the then newly-opened Disneyland Paris.

As enriching as it was to experience the city’s visual attractions, just as memorable for us was to observe the everyday life of average urban French citizens, including driving through streets and boulevards which appeared similar to those neighborhoods in Paris which I saw on TV where the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine is located.

The most enlightening revelation for me on this trip was the social liberal attitude and the ethnic cosmopolitan makeup of the Parisians themselves. At the hotel where we were staying at, I flipped through the cable channels to observe the local French TV programming out of curiosity, and for the first time in my life I saw what appeared to be a French rapper of African descent performing in a video produced by what was seemingly the French version of MTV. At this Chinese restaurant where we had lunch, our waitress greeted us with the words “Bonjour” and “Merci Beaucoup” without any hints or traces of a “twang” in her accent. And everywhere we walked around the city, there was a rich mixture of immigrants, most notably from Asia and Africa, countries which were once colonial territories of the once mighty French global empire, hence we noticed plenty of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and Algerians walking around. Most of the ethnic immigrants we saw in Paris seemed quite well assimilated into French society.

The tragedy which we all saw on the news will definitely bring some question into how truly assimilated are France’s foreign immigrants, but this should not discourage or deter any of us from visiting Paris and to educate or re-educate ourselves of its legacy of religious and social tolerance, which is one of that nation’s greatest gifts to the world. I’ve read up on how France has been a historical pioneer in political democracy and its position as a state role model to America (after all, the French did ally with the U.S. colonies during the American Revolution against the British) and even the Philippines shouldn’t be overlooked.

This month, the French have truly taught us that the key to fighting terror is through bravery, vigilance and understanding. I was thankful to hear that my friends who live in Paris were safe and sound, including one of them who actually lives near the kosher supermarket. The hope and courage which my friends over there have put forth to live their lives uninterrupted without fear or apology, the same feeling which I saw on the faces of the state leaders and French citizens of all color, creed and religion at that mass rally infused me with even more inspiration beyond what words can convey.

Paris to me is now a byword for standing up to hatred and intolerance, and for that we can all truly feel the same way Humphrey Bogart felt. Yes indeed, “We’ll always have Paris,” for she is forever fixed in our hearts, minds and souls.

The author (center) makes his first visit to Paris in 1993. He is shown in front of the Arc de Triomphe with his brother Warren and their mother Linda Gaa.

The author (center) makes his first visit to Paris in 1993. He is shown in front of the Arc de Triomphe with his brother Warren and their mother Linda Gaa.

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