It has been almost three weeks since I arrived in Paris, and what a remarkable time it has been so far. The first weekend I was here, as I was trying to shake off my jet lag and explore this new city, the title for this blog post instantly jumped into my mind. Paris is a city of immense beauty. Literally around every corner is something remarkable, and as someone who has always enjoyed reflective walks at night it occurred to me on my very first of those walks in Paris that I may have found myself in the best city in the world for such an activity! But it would be disingenuous of me not to address the elephant in the room first.
When I got on the plane in Saskatoon the morning of January 2nd I couldn’t have begun to image how the world’s gaze would be on Paris just a few days later, so tragically for reasons of violence and hatred. Mine is a generation who have known international violence and terror in a way that Canadians haven’t for a long time. Terrorism is, almost by its very definition, shocking. It is designed to disrupt normal life and force everyone to pay attention. 9/11 happened while I was still an undergraduate student at Carleton University. I still remember how I felt that morning and that uneasy sense that the world was changing, that we were at one of those points that would divide events into “before” and “after”, and the pit in our collective stomachs waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It is remarkable the number of people I know in my life who served or were involved in some way in the Afghanistan war. During my time at the Harvard Kennedy School I met so many more American friends who were impacted by their involvement in the Iraq war. Having lived in Boston for two years the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 hit me in a personal way, particularly as I was checking social media constantly that day to make sure that those friends still living there were okay. Three months ago I was on the receiving end of that concern from family and friends when the shooting took place in Ottawa that killed a Canadian Forces honour guard at the tomb of the unknown solder and led to a gun battle in the halls of Parliament. Then on morning of January 7th of this year, just four days after arriving in Paris, news started filtering out about the horrific attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. More violence would follow in the days after as all of France, indeed much of the world, held its collective breath as the manhunt for the gunmen raged and culminated in the hostage stand-offs that took place two days later.
I shared some thoughts with Saskatoon radio station 650 CKOM in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo which you can listen to here. While I have had some more time to process everything that has happened, I still ultimately feel the same way I did when I gave the interview: life goes on. Indeed it occurs to me that in some ways this is nothing new, and every generation faces their own demons. Today acts of horror in our world get amplified given the instant interconnectedness that technology brings us, but they have always been with us and it is important not to forget that in so many important ways the world is in fact getting better.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t unnerving to now see police and soldiers with assault rifles patrolling the streets of Paris. However, one of the great strengths and weaknesses of the human condition is that our memories are short, and even now I get a sense that things are starting to move back to a sense of normality. In the face of such madness all that can really be done is to go on and live our lives, stay vigilant of course, and perhaps most importantly, try to do what we can to make the world a little bit of a better place.
That is after all why I am here (The OECD‘s slogan is “Better Policies for Better Lives”). This has always promised to be an incredible professional and personal opportunity for growth, and the past few weeks have only reinforced that for me. In many ways I feel like I have had little more than a glimpse of Paris since I got here, but if there was one word for me to describe this place it is “magical”. After the intensity that always accompanies a move to a new city, I’m starting to feel settled. I’ve met new colleagues and friends from literally dozens of countries, and have begun to enjoy the pleasures, both simple and grand, of life in Paris and this new experience. There is so much more to come, and I look forward to sharing this journey with you!
I will leave you with just a few images from my walks in the City of Lights so far (P.S. I’ve started using my Instagram account more regularly, so for those who are on it follow me for my latest photos from my time here). Unlike some things in life, I can truly say that the great monuments and sights of Paris are so much more impressive in person than a picture can hope to capture.