Travels in Nice after Tragedy
My family’s experience as tourists in a grieving city
On Thursday, July 14th, a truck rammed through a crowd in Nice celebrating Bastille day, a holiday honoring French national pride. 84 people were killed and many more injured. The community was left stunned. A day of celebration was ruined by incomprehensible tragedy. That evening, in another part of the world, my family sat around the television watching the events unfold, uneasily glancing at the plane tickets pinned to the refrigerator just over our shoulders.
We had splurged on an exciting and glamorous trip. I personally viewed it as part of my recovery from 6 weeks in rural India. The itinerary went as follows: fly into Milan, take a train to Nice, spend two days there, rent a car and drive through Provence. Then reverse it and go home, just in time to start another year of college. As the news of the attacks reached Atlanta, we realized we had a choice. We could alter our relatively flexible plans and explore a city other than Nice or we could keep our existing itinerary, unsure of what our few days there would bring. We decided to do the latter. To this day, I know we made the right decision.
Seven days later, we were strolling up the French Riviera. The ocean gleamed a cerulean blue as the sun lay low on the horizon. Children chased each other, arms stretched out with one hand, balancing gelato in the other. Crowds flowed in and out of the nearby flower market and old men sat in their usual café spot, sipping espresso and chatting up waiters. The sight would not have lent one to believe that a tragedy that had taken place just a week before.
For the majority of our time in Nice, this would remain true. My family and I explored local landmarks such as the Opera House, Museé Marc Chagall and Museé Matisse. We enjoyed perhaps one too many glasses of rosé and one too many cones of gelato. We indulged in the humidity free heat and watched the sunrise and sunset on the shores of the Mediterranean. It was lovely. So lovely it was almost too easy to forget what had just happened. It was easy to do so, but incredibly important not to.
As we wandered, small clues would arise. On the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, a “missing” sign was pinned to a storefront. On a busy Saturday morning, we noticed that an unusual amount of shops were closed, contrary to the hours they had listed. On our final day, we wandered further up the Riviera than before and came across the memorial. The mile-long stretch that the the truck had driven was now lined with flowers, notes, pictures, and stuffed animals honoring the victims of the attack and the city itself.
I noticed that the notes were written not only in French, but English, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic and many more languages I did not recognize. Due to its beauty, culture and history, Nice is a global city, a city of tourists. People from all over the world were affected by this tragedy and in response, people from all over the world reached out. The massive memorial acted as a testament to the love and support of the global community.
It was a tragic summer, not just for Nice. Terrorists attacked cities throughout Europe, the Middle East, the United States and Asia. In Dhaka, they raided a coffee shop killing students from my college, in Orlando they murdered dancers enjoying a night out and in Baghdad they detonated twin bombs, adding more pain to an already hurting city.
Such a summer is bound to trigger fear: fear of people not like us, fear of the future and fear of traveling. If there is one thing I learned, it is that we should not let these events prevent us from doing what we love. The beauty of travel is being able to share our culture with others and learn from those unlike us. It is about connecting people, both in good situations and in bad.
To see the real and raw sides of a place, not the glossy, magazine version can reveal a truth that a traveler may otherwise not see. The act of showing up no matter what, supporting local businesses, engaging with natives and simply being present has immense power. Travel acts as a way to bring people together, in a world where so many people are trying to drive us apart. As young people paving our way through it, it is our obligation to continue to do so.