Paris' motto is the Latin phrase Fluctuat nec mergitur, which translates, roughly, as "battered by the waves, but not sunk". These words have come to mind repeatedly since the November 13 terror attacks that devastated the French capital and shocked the world.
The outpouring of love for Paris reflects its special hold on the world. The city first put me under its spell when I was 13. My Hong Kong-born aunt and uncle, who lived in London at that time, took me to Paris for three days of art and architecture, eating and shopping. For a kid growing up in the American suburbs, it provided an entrée to another, more romantic world. The bells of Notre-Dame have summoned me repeatedly since.
At the end of last month, my partner and I decided to make a last-minute trip to Paris. It wasn't an altruistic journey: it's hard to paint a trip to one of the world's greatest cities as an act of self-sacrifice. Also, we thought that we might be able to get a deal on a hotel - and we did, paying about €125 (HK$1,050) a night for a room that typically goes for at least twice that.
Yet I couldn't help but wonder what we'd find.
WE ARE STAYING IN the 11th arrondissement, at the Hotel l'Antoine. It's about 10 minutes' walk from the Bataclan theatre, where terrorists killed 89 people, and just down the street from La Belle Equipe, the café where 19 were shot dead. Bouquets and notes remain piled up outside the still-closed café. The flowers have wilted, rain has blurred the writing, but weeks after the carnage, the makeshift memorial lives on in its own way: someone lights its candles each night.
One evening, we have dinner at a friend's apartment. She takes our presence as a sign of solidarity, telling us she is "so glad" we've come to Paris now. She and her husband describe subtle but pronounced changes in Parisian life. Recently, for instance, the two of them went to a rock concert for the first time since November 13; before, it would have been sold out, but this time it wasn't.
Security has been ramped up everywhere. A few blocks from La Belle Equipe, outside the Pause Café, where we take our afternoon coffee, an armed policeman stands guard. Amid the selfie-stick-wielding tourist hordes outside Notre-Dame, a trio of soldiers in fatigues patrol.
On New Year's Eve, we attend a performance of Mozart's Requiem at the Saint-Sulpice Church, on the Left Bank. The queue stretches through the square outside - it takes a while to check every concertgoer for weapons.
Before the orchestra begins its performance, Hugues Reiner, the wild-haired conductor, reflects on 2015, bookended by the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January and the November 13 attacks. "This is a war," he says. "We will fight it with creativity, with beauty."
In this sense, Paris is undimmed, and we explore gems new and old. The new: the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the year-old, Frank Gehry-designed museum that's awkward on the outside but luminous inside. (The exhibition "A selection of Chinese Artists in a Time of Turbulence and Transformation" opens here on January 27 and will run until April.) The old: the Richelieu site of the French national library, with its turn-of-the-last-century reading room dominated by an oval skylight. A quirky old librarian welcomes us in for a look and shows off, of all things, the ancient air-conditioning system.
One of the city's great delights, of course, is its cuisine - and it proves surprisingly easy to get reservations at some of its most celebrated restaurants. Our gastronomic highlight: Passage 53, where Japanese chef Shinichi Sato's cooking has been recognised with two Michelin stars. The restaurant has just 18 seats, yet we are able to confirm a table for lunch just a few days in advance.
Simplicity signals this chef's confidence; Sato sends out a perfectly cooked piece of monkfish accompanied only by variations of spinach - an assured treatment that sings of the essence of the vegetable. Hints of Asia are evident throughout the tasting menu, from the wonton-like wrapper that holds a morsel of foie gras to the lychee that brightens a dessert.
"HE WHO CONTEMPLATES the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo," French poet and novelist Victor Hugo wrote. "Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic."
Wonder and tragedy certainly cohabit in the city of today, expressing themselves in their own dramatic, Parisian way. Every day, walking to breakfast, we pass a scrawl of fluorescent-yellow graffiti on a bright-green carriage-house door: " 2016 Fin du monde" ("2016 the end of the world").
One morning, we visit the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Jean Nouvel-designed edifice housing a museum dedicated to the Arab world's history and cultures. The Left Bank landmark, which won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture after its 1987 opening, boasts a facade of 113 photosensitive panels inspired by traditional Arabic motifs. But it has aged poorly - those panels are grimy and, on our visit, three are missing glass and boarded up. The exterior is also marred by poor signage, the interior by inhospitable staff.
We mistakenly buy €16.50 tickets for a mediocre exhibition about the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. When we try to visit the permanent collection - the point of our excursion - we are told that would cost an additional €8 per person. I complain to the man at the ticket desk that this is not only odd (I've never been to a museum at which a special-exhibition ticket excludes entry to the permanent collection) but also is indicated nowhere in the signage. He concedes the signs are "horrible", then adds dismissively, "You should have known better", saying I "should have asked what the tickets were for" and finally declares that I have "an attitude problem".
I am incensed. Then, on further reflection, I soften. Perhaps, I think, there is some comfort in his unwelcoming, if stereotypical, French surliness. Perhaps it is a sign that Paris endures. Perhaps it shows that, for all its suffering, this great city may be battered, but its indomitable spirit has not been sunk.