By KIM ESTES, Four Points News
Dr. Julia Hawthorne and her husband, Andy, were faced with a decision on Nov. 13, the day terrorists opened fire on Paris. Sitting on a park bench under starry skies at the Eiffel Tower, they asked themselves and each other, “Who wins?”
Residents of Grandview Hills, the couple was on a “bucket list” vacation.
“It was my 40th birthday and I was surprised by husband with a trip to Paris,” said Hawthorne, her face beaming with appreciation. She is a dentist and owner of Steiner Dental. They left Austin at noon, Nov. 12 and arrived in Paris at 8 a.m., Nov. 13.
Their room, reserved in a hotel across from the Presidential Palace, wasn’t ready. Time ticked by, however, and they went to their lunch reservation but then returned to sleep off jet lag. They woke for dinner and a late-night visit to the Eiffel Tower.
Hawthorne recalled, “It was 9:30 – 10 o’clock. The view was breathtaking. We were taking photos, face timing with our daughters, showing them the Ferris wheel and the Arch of Triumph. We were up there an hour-and-a-half. It was cold and windy.
“On the elevator down, we started getting text messages and there was a lot of chatter from people around us. The text messages to us were ‘Are you safe? Are you okay?’ – things like that. I thought, ‘What? Why wouldn’t we be okay? We’re in Paris’.”
On the ground, Hawthorne had planned to take their picture under the Tower, but her husband got another message and, absent-mindedly, walked away. “I knew then something was wrong. It was a long message about the attacks.
“The Tower had been so full and all of the sudden, it was like a ghost town. We tried to reach Uber but couldn’t get a car. The only cars you saw were police cars and the only sounds you heard were sirens. So, we sat down on a park bench.
“I prayed. Faith is a big part of me,” Hawthorne said. “And, we considered leaving, coming home.
“I believe we really bonded at that point,” she added. “We asked, ‘How are we going to handle this? How are we going to let this sway us? Who wins?’ It solidified our belief to not live in fear, to stay the course.”
The Hawthornes continued in the City of Light, although France’s president had closed all sites on Saturday. Ultimately, 130 people died from the attacks.
“On Sunday, they aren’t open anyway,” Hawthorne noted. So, the couple went to a flea market where they found, among other treasures, vintage Chanel. “We allowed ourselves to ‘get lost’ in Paris. You can see a lot of Paris just in the architecture. It is such an old city.”
On Monday, the French president called for the country to observe a moment of silence at noon. “We were on the Champs de Elysee and everybody stopped and came out on the street. I felt like everyone in Paris was doing the same thing – like we witnessed a real moment of solidarity. I will never forget that,” Hawthorne said.
Before returning to Austin four days later, on Nov. 17, the Hawthornes had toured the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa, walked the Champs de Elysee and the grounds of Norte Dame. They had eaten at a restaurant built in the 18th century, where Napoleon and Josephine dined.
“One of our goals is to eat at the top 50 restaurants in the world,” Hawthorne said with a laugh. “We’ll get there.” The couple has been married 16 years.
They did not go to attack sites. “We didn’t want to see them,” she said.
There was no trouble or delays on their return trip and the Hawthornes plan to go back one day, maybe with their daughters, Brooklyn and Presley, now 9 and 6.
“They were well cared for here and in a safe place. My mother-in-law was staying with them and she didn’t say much about the attacks. We face timed a lot, so they saw us. It wasn’t until they got to school on Monday that they heard rumblings of what happened, so we talked about it.
“It was part of our decision – that our daughters see Mommy and Daddy are not scared. I’ve chosen to not live in fear. We live in a fallen world; I know that,” Hawthorne concluded.
“But I felt protected. My husband was there. The military was there. Some of the cafes we went into were serving, but some were empty. We would go in and they would ask, ‘Do you want to sit in the back?’ We said, ‘No. We want to sit in the front window.’”