NICE, France (AP) — An eerie feeling hung over Nice’s blood-stained Promenade des Anglais as shops and restaurants opened for business Saturday, with small vigils and flowers peppering the walkway outside.
A jewel in the French Riviera, Nice’s sunny Mediterranean shoreline, artistic heritage and ubiquitous open-air terraces attract some 4 million tourists a year.
And it was precisely this international culture that was hit on Thursday’s Bastille Day in a bloody truck rampage killing at least 84 people that threatened to dim the ancient city’s sparkle.
“The economy on the Cote d’Azur is going to suffer, and we’re just at the beginning of the season,” said Chechen nightclub bouncer Roustam Khaitaev, whose daughter Sabrina was among those injured in the attack. “There’ll be no one else for the rest of the season. Bars, restaurants, they’ll all suffer. I’m grieving, even if my daughter survived.”
Restaurants were largely empty as the sun set, yet on the promenade a few yards away thousands of local residents and tourists enjoying the evening air painted a seemingly familiar picture.
But many had come to pay tribute to those who died.
Tourists and locals walked solemnly among the roses, candles, teddy bears and notes of grief and sympathy that had been placed where the dead lay less than 48 hours earlier — their blood still visible on the pavement.
The solemn silence was briefly punctured when a pair of plainclothes police officers tried to drive through the crowd, prompting angry shouts of “shame.” The officers backed away after a brief standoff.
Most of those interviewed by The Associated Press said they felt it was right to reopen the promenade so soon after the attack.
“I think it’s important for people to be able to reflect on what happened by seeing this,” said Marie-Francoise Hulia, who lives in Nice. “It’s important not to have a memorial hidden away in some corner of the town.”
Carlo Marnini said he had driven all the way from Milan, Italy, to pay his respects to a city he has vacationed in for many years.
“People need to see with their own eyes what terrorists are doing,” he said, adding that people should return to the streets quickly after the attack. “The world mustn’t stop,” he said. “Terrorism mustn’t win.”
Nice — with its 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of shoreline — has been synonymous with tourism since the late 18th century when it became a fashionable destination for upper class English holidaymakers who initially sojourned there in winter.
This particular heritage is remembered — and perhaps now infamous — in the name of the city’s most famous spot, the Promenade des Anglais — French for “Walkway of the English.”
In recent decades, Russians, Americans, Italians and Germans have joined the English in flocking to this southern city, many consciously seeking respite from the glitterati of neighboring Cannes and the royal glare of Monaco.
But the myth of Nice has been constructed over millennia — touched not only by sun and celebrity but by divinity and art. It’s never until now, lost its magical vibe.
The Ancient Greeks of Marseille settled here in 350 B.C. and in celebration of appropriating such a beautiful site, called it Nikaia, from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
Over two thousand years later, some of the 20th century’s greatest artists such as Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse came here for inspiration, enamored with its clear light and Mediterranean sea vistas — and immortalized in museums that house France’s largest art collections outside Paris.
Mickael Davila, who had traveled from the French capital to Nice for a posh wedding, left the Bastille Day fireworks two minutes before the truck hit on Thursday night and described the normally-bustling Promenade Saturday as a “ghost town.”
“Tourists won’t come back here in the future. The paradise of Nice is gone now,” he said.
Others hoped the city would survive the tragedy. At the Queenie Bar a DJ played Freddie Mercury’s classic “The Show Must Go On.”