You Should Still Go To Nice.
On July 14th of this year, we had the rare opportunity to watch Bastille Day fireworks near the Eiffel Tower. We walked a long way from our Airbnb and piled into a gravel square filled with French families and spent the evening watching multicolored sparks fly in every direction. There were fireworks that turned into hearts, fireworks that sparkled gold, and even fireworks that formed a column filled with every color of the rainbow. All around us were the soft sounds of Parisiennes chattering and pouring wine into plastic cups. It was nothing short of magical and the perfect warm summer evening. But, as the fireworks show came to a close and we began to shuffle home alongside every other family in Paris, we found out about the attack in Nice. Nice, the place we were heading to in a few day's time. A place where a man (though I do not even feel that he should be allowed that small justification,) had just driven a truck into a crowd of people watching fireworks. People who had just been doing the very same thing we were. Watching fireworks, enjoying summer, maybe even sharing in a glass of wine or two or pointing out which fireworks they liked best. It scared me.
So naturally, we thought about doing what any other person would do in our situation. Any person who was afraid of another attack, any other person who was afraid of what this meant for the world: we thought about cancelling our trip to Nice. I ran through the logistics in my head (cancelling our Airbnb, where to go instead, etc., etc.) And after some more thinking, I eventually realized something. That horrible idiot is not allowed to make us afraid. Sometimes it's hard to see, especially after tragic incidents like this one, but I do not believe one lowlife cancels out all the good there still is left to find in the world. Nice would still be recovering when we got there, I knew that much. But I also knew that in spite of everything, Nice was a beautiful city on the sea. A place to sit on the beach and watch fireworks with your family. Still. One horrible man does not change that. He does not subtract from all the good there is still left to find there. I refuse to give him any of that power. So we went to Nice.
When we arrived on our train from Paris, you could already smell the Mediterranean. People all around us were dressed in gauzy cotton clothing, clad in chunky sandals, and already sunburnt. The sun was golden and stood directly in the center of the sky, shining onto people who were spooning gelato into their mouths in an effort to cool down. In other words, we were shocked to find that life (though in some ways it would always be changed,) was still going on. We grabbed a taxi to our host's apartment as we'd done in every city we'd traveled to thus far, and she took us on a walk through the city with her dog Sonny. "That is where it happened," she pointed down a stretch of the Promenade, "that is where the flowers are," she moved her finger in another direction, "and that is where the beach is and the restaurants are and the little boat that ferries you across the port." She listed off all the best places to visit and provided us with a bit more information before Sonny pulled us back towards the house.
Once inside, our host made us mojitos with fresh mint from her garden and we all gathered around her patio table. "Everyone, everyday in every hotel and airbnb is receiving cancellations." She tossed a couple peanuts in her mouth and we all nodded our heads in silence, equally saddened for what we'd already seen was a beautiful city. "People, they don't want to visit here right now," she continued, "they are scared now." She shook her head and shrugged, "You will see. When you go to the beach, there is nobody now. There should be thousands of people. The restaurants have nobody, the hotels have empty space. Nobody is coming." She shook her head and then went to rest for a few moments while we set off to explore the city.
We saw what she meant. Our first night in Nice there were still people, still tourists, still a ton of activity, but I had the feeling (though I'd never before traveled to Nice in the summer,) that there should have been more. The restaurants were only half full, we had a bit of relatively open space in which to walk every single day (as opposed to the packed sardine can feeling we'd experienced in most other places in Europe in the summertime,) and it was easy to find a spot to place our towels on the beach. But the reality of it is this: we should all still go to Nice. If you can, if it isn't too taxing on your mental health, if you are planning on it anyway, go to Nice. Though it was emptier than it should have been, and though there was still a layer of sadness permeating everything, I found that Nice was still the beautiful, vibrant place I'd dreamed of. There were still groups of teenagers laughing and joking with one another, practicing silly jumps from the cliffsides into the water. The water itself was crystalline and a blue unlike any I'd ever seen before, so clear that you could see the pebbles at the bottom of the water even when they were several feet below your toes. There were cocktails with fancy bits of watermelon and pineapple sticking up from the rims of the glasses. There were kids splashing in the water wearing goggles and floaties and yelling about how cold it was. There were beach chairs and towels and the pebbles on the beach that left a white chalk on the bottoms of my shoes. There were colorful boats and terrible tourist food and tacky souvenir shops parading assortments of bubblegum pink plastic inner tubes and floppy water shoes and as much sunscreen as I'd ever seen on one shelf. The same as you'd expect. But now, alongside all those things were also these: an assortment of glass pebbles spread on the edge of the promenade, arranged to spell out the word "LOVE," a banner on the side of a building that said "Je Suis Nice," the flowers lining the promenade (I have never seen so many,) of varying degrees of decay but all laying out alongside thousands and thousands of notes and well wishes and prayers from people of all ethnicities from all around the world, and a whole pavilion filled with stuffed animals and toys and crayon drawings specifically for the children who died that day. You cannot visit that area without crying.
But, when I think of Nice, I am not sad. If there's anything Nice taught us, it's that people are good. This horrible thing happened because of a horrible, idiotic person and no matter how much I'd like to take away the pain of anyone experiencing loss because of this horrible person, I can't. However, I will say this: all those flowers, and drawings, and toys were laid there by good people. They were left by people who cared enough to leave their mark, acknowledge the mourning of this city and of the families affected by this tragedy, and to say they wish them the best. Just like when any other tragedy in any other city happens. Though I fear these tragedies are happening far too often, I still notice the amounts of flowers and drawings laid out and it reminds me that most of the people in the world are good. The good will always outweigh the bad and the actions of this one coward are not something to judge the whole of the world by.
So go to Nice. Go visit the restaurant workers, and hosts, and hotel staff, and be a tourist. Help the city get back on its feet by being there and helping to spread love. Leave flowers if you want, jump into the Mediterranean, make notes and crayon drawings and be nice to everyone you see in the whole of the town. Lay on the beach for a whole day and do nothing. Purchase sunscreen and eat gelato and share a plate of some amazing French food. Talk to people. Notice how many people treat you with kindness and respect when you speak broken French with them. Notice how many people are hugging their kids. Notice how many people are still laughing and playing and refusing to be scared. Notice how many people in Nice still want love, and happiness, and peace in spite of what's happened. Don't cancel your trip. Don't be afraid. Go to Nice and find out for yourself how much good there still is left in the world. Go to Nice.