Best Defense

Best Defense’s special report from Paris: Security feels solid but not suffocating

My wife and I are in Paris for a quick break before my next book is published later this month.

Police officers stand by after Greenpeace activists unveiled a banner reading "liberty, equality, fraternity" on the Eiffel Tower in Paris early on May 5, 2017, to protest against the far-right Front National (FN) party, two days before the second round of the presidential election. / AFP PHOTO / Jacques DEMARTHON        (Photo credit should read JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers stand by after Greenpeace activists unveiled a banner reading "liberty, equality, fraternity" on the Eiffel Tower in Paris early on May 5, 2017, to protest against the far-right Front National (FN) party, two days before the second round of the presidential election. / AFP PHOTO / Jacques DEMARTHON (Photo credit should read JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)

 

My wife and I are in Paris for a quick break before my next book is published later this month. It’s a wonderful city that my work unfortunately did not ever take me to (that route was more like Mogadishu, Baghdad, Kabul, and Seoul), so I feel like I am experiencing it as an adult for, TBH, really the first time in my life.

But what you all probably want to know about is how the place feels right now. Okay.

I had expected the security presence to be more pervasive, and more heavy handed, especially with the second round of elections coming up. Indeed, I have noticed a variety of uniformed personnel — gendarmes, National Police, and some I couldn’t make out (like the “Republican Guard” over on Boulevard Henri IV). They tote assault rifles and pistols. But it isn’t like July 1969, when I remember seeing machine gun emplacements, protected by sandbags, at key intersections in the Latin Quarter. The current presence is just there, quite common but not intrusive. Those on patrol look comfortable, not panicky, like they are used to this and can do their tasks without a lot of drama.

Question for Best Defenders: The French seem to patrol in threes. Why is this? Is it standard, or terrorism-related? At any rate it seems intelligent. For example, on Rue du Roi de Sicilie, on the southern edge of a historic Jewish neighborhood, I saw three policemen inspecting the saddlebags on a parked and locked bicycle. One seemed to be looking into a bag, the other looking over him, and a third looking around. Or is it a combination of two experienced guys teaching the ropes to a newbie?

Election note: Rightist campaign posters seem to focus on “forte” (strength), while the center-left is more about “ensemble” (together).

Cultural note: I was wondering where all the Chinese tourists were — didn’t see them on the street or in restaurants. Then I went to the Louvre. They were ALL there. I also saw a Vietnamese tour group, for the first time. There were so many people packed into the room where the Mona Lisa hangs that both the temperature and humidity were notably higher. People mainly seemed to be taking selfies of themselves with the painting. It made me wonder if shooting selfies is a cry for help at a time when the individual is under extraordinary pressure from both governmental and corporate powers.

Strategic note: France is Europe’s bicoastal power. (Spain isn’t really because it has one big coast with four sides that, along with the Pyrenees, strategically make it almost an island akin to England.) Are there lessons bicoastal America can learn from France?

Historical note: Paris has been dealing with terror for a while, you might say, and not just of the Robespierre kind. The other day on Rue des Rosiers I walked past the Chez Jo Goldenberg delicatessen, which Abu Nidal attacked in 1982 with grenades and rifles, killing six and wounding 22. One of the attackers now lives openly in Norway. That doesn’t seem right.

Photo credit: JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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