PARIS - Americans Dawn Mabalon and her husband arrived in Paris Friday evening, just shortly before terrorists launched a deadly wave of attacks in the French capital. They dined at a French bistro, celebrating their first visit to the city, then strolled back to their hotel.
“We saw an ambulance go by with a siren on and we were like, ‘an ambulance goes by in a big city all the time,'” Mabalon recalls. “It’s when we got back and got connected that my phone started blowing up. My family was calling to see if we were okay.”
But instead of staying put, the California couple were out Sunday on a sunny afternoon, taking selfies in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.
“In our sorrow and in our grief, life does go on,” Mabalon says. “We thought it was important to show both respect for Paris and the people by spending our tourist dollars here and helping the economy. And also to show the terrorists can’t keep us home.”
Mabalon’s sentiments are echoed across the city following Friday’s attacks. Tourists and Parisians alike have defied government calls to stay home out of security concerns. Boats gliding down the Seine river are packed with foreigners. Strollers paused to listen to accordion music at the iconic Pont des Arts bridge, and joggers ran down the Canal Saint Martin, near where assailants opened fire on two night spots, killing 15 people.
But that’s only part of the story.
To be sure, the terrorists on Friday struck several places that were off the mainstream tourist map - similar to January’s terrorist attacks that targeted a French newspaper and a Jewish supermarket.
Nonetheless, the attacks have left Paris’ tourist industry - which generated $17 billion last year - on edge.
Tourism as lifeline
Museums and other major attractions have been closed since Friday’s attacks, along with Disneyland Paris. Some airlines are offering refunds to passengers who don’t want to travel here.
So it’s no surprise that bicycle taxi driver Mohamed Nachait, who waited for customers near Notre Dame, is worried - even as he notes that tourism bounced back after the attacks earlier this year.
“We live from tourism in this city, but the threat has gone everywhere,” Nachait said. “If we just listened to this and stay at home, then we have given more power to these people.”
With a dearth of places open to visit - and driven by a sense of solidarity - some tourists are heading to the sites of the attacks to pay their respect. That was the case of Turkish student Mustafa Etkaturk, who stood at police barriers placed before the Bataclan music hall, where more than 80 people died on Friday.
“I understand how they feel because we had a bombing in Ankara too, and we lost friends as well,” Etkaturk said. “So we know how they feel right now. And I want to share my feelings with them as well.”
Dutchman Ming Lam arrived with friends at the Place de la Republique in central Paris, where hundreds of people massed around the iconic statue of France’s Marian, placing flower and candles. The square also was the scene of massive peace protests following January’s attacks.
“It’s scary, but you have to go on, people have to live,” he said.
Asked if he had a message for other tourists, he added, “Just come back, just visit. France is a beautiful place."