In Paris, searching for the comfort of the familiar

Image source, AFP

The BBC's Kevin Connolly finds Paris in the wake of the attacks subdued but stoical - and takes comfort in the fact that, on the surface, ordinary life continues as before.

November was never really the month to visit Paris.

It's not quite Christmas, when the cold brittle lights of the great department stores glisten in the December darkness.

And it's a long way from April with its sensuous hint of warmer, longer evenings to come.

At this time of year fallen leaves still lie around the plane trees, as though they've been shrugged off in an involuntary shudder at the coming of winter.

Some things here never change of course.

Order pig's trotters in the best restaurant near my old apartment building and they still come with a diamond pattern burned in to the crispy skin on the grill, as though they were wearing Argyll socks.

And riders of motor scooters still squirm irritatingly through lines of static traffic in a clumsy waddle as though they were carrying the weight of the bike between their clenched buttocks.

You find yourself searching for the comfort of the familiar at moments like this, when things are superficially familiar but when the truth is that they've been changed utterly.

Image source, Reuters

This time last month Paris was the capital of a country that was involved in a very modern type of war, in which laser-guided, computer-controlled missiles were being dropped on targets in Syria, a distant former colony.

Now it is a front line in a modern form of conflict in which the comfortable landscape of any European or American city can become a physical battlefield.

The enemy wears no uniform and acknowledges no law of war.

Its foot-soldiers could be a man or woman sitting next to you on a bus who work alongside you, who grew up hearing the same news and studying the same history lessons as you - and came to dangerously different conclusions.

They might live alongside you as sleepers for years before strapping on a suicide vest or picking up an assault rifle and venturing with deadly intent into the same streets they travel on their daily journey to work.

Of course the truth is that almost all of the commuters sitting around you looking bored or tired or apprehensive are exactly what they seem.

France, its politicians say, is at war but it's an exhausting, nerve-wracking kind of war in which nothing might happen for months or years but where equally tomorrow may bring the chaos and fear of the battlefield to the streets of the city.

Image source, AFP

Terrorists target the comfortable certainties of daily life. A big part of what they want is that nagging fear they install at the back of your mind like a computer virus.

Is that jumpy-looking young man with a rucksack a suicide bomber or just a nervous student on his way to an exam?

When you say goodbye to your children on their way to a party in a bar or to a rock concert are you really saying goodbye?

What good does it do to say "Take care," or "Safe journey," to the people you love when you know that no amount of care that they might take will really protect them and that the safety of their journey is not really in their own hands?

All of this week, Parisians have been thinking all of these thoughts and yet somehow life here has ground on in the gathering gloom of November.

Image source, Getty Images

But if the weapon of the terrorist is fear and the uncertainty that flows from it, well, we ordinary citizens of Paris, Peterhead, Peoria and points beyond have a weapon of our own.

It is the dogged durability that got Parisians out to work again in the days after those terrible attacks - the foot soldiers' ability to soldier on through the darkness.

Paris is a little subdued just now - not quite as I remember it. But people are eating in restaurants, and working in offices and factories and grumbling in queues. Life has gone on not with some great show of bravado but with a kind of determination that is all the more impressive for being understated.

So maybe I was wrong to say that November is not the best time to be here.

It is a little grey and rainy and the fears and uncertainties about the future are real enough… but when you think about the endless emotions the old place has lived through in a week, really, it's never looked better to me.

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