PARIS — Arriving in Paris Wednesday evening, the City of Light was clearly wounded and shell-shocked. Uniformed military troops patrolled Charles de Gaulle Airport in groups of three, walking in triangle military formations and assault rifles in ready-to-fire position. On my way to Paris city center, the taxi driver pointed out the Stade de France – site of the friendly soccer match between Germany and France that was a focal point of the recent terrorist attack – in a hushed tone, as if the mere mention of the terrorists might summon more of the animals to appear and engage in another act of hateful brutality.
Thursday morning, walking along the famous Champs-Elysees, security forces were just as visible and active as at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Shoppers entering a small galleria of retail stores had to pass a security checkpoint involving bag searches and full-body metal detectors. Half a block down the tawny shopping promenade, diners were required to undergo a bag search in order to grab a quick bite to eat at McDonald’s.
The normally gay Christmas Market – spanning a half-dozen blocks in the forefront of a giant Ferris wheel illuminated in France’s blue, white, and red national colors – reflected the sudden somber tension of the city. French military troops patrolled the outdoor market in tactical formations with assault rifles held ready to fire. The Christmas carol Silent Night wafted from overhead speakers with dark irony rather than hope and joy as the armed military troops walked with purpose through the muted crowd in tactical formation.
The COP21 United Nations climate conference was supposed to be a defining moment in the storied history of the City of Light, yet nobody on the streets of Paris talked about it or seemed to care. To the extent people commented on the conference, it was primarily to express revulsion at global warming activists defying French government orders not to launch protest marches through the Parisian streets and thus further strain police resources during this time of acute tension and danger. Just a couple of days before my arrival, climate activists not only marched through the streets, but they brought rocks and bottles to throw without provocation at the by-standing police. When the global warming activists ran out of rocks and bottles, they tore flowers and candles away from the makeshift memorials set up for Parisians who had so recently been slain by terrorists, and then hurled the flowers and candles at the Parisian police.
The UN climate conference was off to a somber start, and to the extent Parisians knew or cared about the conference, their reaction appeared to be one of justifiable outrage rather than sympathetic solidarity.