On your right, notice the gates: seeing (and fearing) historic Paris, like the locals do

On a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, the crunch of gravel beneath your feet fills your ears; the swirl of runners weaving in and around you fills your vision; and the rich stories of the royal inhabitants of the mansions fill your mind. You will probably not feel fear.

How can you be afraid when you stand among stretches of carefully tailored grass and towering mansions? When you enter the Gardens, you enter the past, and nobody mentions that day’s bleeding headlines about terrors and crimes around a globalized world. Historical sights—especially the beautiful ones—feel separated from the real world, especially to tourists who cannot perceive a city like Paris as a home, but rather as a temporary destination. So when a guide pointed to some gates on a tour this past Monday and explained that they were added in response to the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, the group let out a little gasp.

Terrorist attacks? Causing a ripple in the Luxembourg Gardens? The historical sites of Paris are supposed to live outside of current events. No matter how unsafe or unstable a major city might get, its monuments seem timeless and reliable to tourists who travel to see what Google Images promises them. Of course, tourist destinations inevitably tack on increased security measures in response to danger. (Think of pre-9/11 days before security involved shoes-off, full-body pat-downs.) Precautions instituted after moments of crisis are jarring at first, then dissolve into the background, and the illusion of historical sites’ timelessness settles back into place.

When the guide asked tourists if they had seen the Gardens before, three hands raised into the air.  Had they seen these Gardens, though, or some place else? To the infrequent visitor, the Luxembourg Gardens do not age between visits. Paris does not age; when it does, tour guides do not tack on current events to their scripts, and tourists take care not to notice.

Even the most tourist-filled destinations are part of locals’ landscapes. Fear is part of Parisians’ worlds, and so are gates; granted, when a tour guide’s mention of terror attacks is sandwiched between talks of kings and architects of years past, stories of the past and present blur into a narrative that tourists can forget at the end of the day. But to understand Paris as both a city of history and of the present, you must pay attention to both the mansions and their new gates.

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