Who hasn’t dreamed of visiting France? The two most popular tourist destinations in the country are Paris and Nice, on the French Riviera. But now they’ve both been hit by deadly attacks — three large-scale attacks in a year and a half.
Last Thursday’s truck rampage in Nice killed 84 people on a seaside promenade watching fireworks. It’s taken a serious toll on the French spirit – and has made some tourists reconsider a visit.
In the days after the attack, flowers and teddy bears marked the places along the Promenade des Anglais where people were killed in the attack. But the spot where the attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was shot and killed was marked by a pile of rocks. The word “Assassin” was sprayed in red on the pavement. Curses were scribbled on some of the rocks. A circle of people hovered over the site. Some people leaned over and spat.
Danielle Cocchi was one of them. “It helps me deal with the hatred and anger within me,” she says. “We’re lost. We just don’t know how to deal with it. We’re living in endless doubt.”
Doubt has driven some people in Nice to church services – and to seek the counsel of Sylvain Brison, chaplain of the main cathedral in Nice.
“They ask, how can we forgive that?” he says. “Why is this kind of evil happening? They have difficulties to forgive the terrorist.”
Another priest delivered a homily at the cathedral last Sunday that tried to offer some answers. “Love is stronger than hate,” he said. “We shouldn’t close our hearts.”
Among those in the pews was Majella Blackburn from Ireland. She said she had second thoughts about vacationing in Nice.
“I was frightened,” she said. “And I felt coming to celebrate on holiday and people are in mourning didn’t seem right. But I’m glad I came.”
This is the jarring juxtaposition of Nice: the blue sea, the sunlight and the mix of French and Italian cuisines continue to attract visitors even after the attack. They idle by the harbor and walk along the promenade, ice cream cones in hand.
But some tourists have their doubts.
Denis Zanon, manager of Nice’s tourism board, understands people’s hesitation but says Nice is just like anywhere else in the world.
“I won’t say myself I don’t recommend to go to the U.S. because of the tragedy of Orlando or because of what’s happening in Baton Rouge or wherever,” he says. “If you are rational and you say that I don’t want to go anywhere where there have been such events, you don’t go anywhere.”
This is the sobering – almost defeatist – message French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has imparted to his own public. “The times have changed,” he said the morning after the attack. “France is going to have to live with terrorism.”
But that’s going to be hard. After the attack in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last January, the trending hashtag on Twitter was #jesuischarlie, “I am Charlie.” After November’s attacks in Paris, it was #jesuisparis. Now, it’s #jesuisépuisé — “I am exhausted.”