This morning, the sun is shining over Paris. Blue skies. Spring-like weather. It feels definitely strange, abnormal even. It should be dark and raining, shouldn’t it? Because our hearts are heavy and in despair. Because we are all grieving, seriously grieving.
Popeye and I had planned to spend this week-end in Paris staying at Swee’Pea’s apartment since Niruj, our friend from India (and Swee’Pea’s) would be in Paris. I had missed him so much for several years that I was really looking forward to meeting him again.
On Friday night, Popeye and I decided not to go out for dinner and stay home instead. We were expecting a message from Swee’Pea who was on his way to Montreal. We were peacefully reading on the couch.
My phone rang around 10:30 p.m. SP from Boston airport. Which was very strange and could only spell trouble. We mainly communicate through WhatsApp messages and Skype if we need to talk.
“Mom,” he said. “I am at the airport waiting for my plane. I am watching CNN right now. Horrible things are happening in Paris right in the Oberkampf area.”
We don’t watch tv and the district where we were staying is quite far away from the 10th and the 11th districts where hell was breaking loose, unknown to us. We were in a very quiet area. We only started hearing the sirens of the ambulances that were bringing a lot of casualties from the Bataclan to the nearby hospital around 1 a.m. And by then we knew a lot about what had happened even though we did not fully grasp the extent of the devastation we would awaken to.
While I was talking with my son who was really worried about his friends in Paris (some of them live right where the attacks were happening), I started getting messages from Niruj. “saw the news? attacks in Paris… am seeing the news in a bar .. sounds really grave”
We turned the radio on. The newsmen were so confused that it was very hard to understand what was going on. There were talks about shootings and explosions and the President being ‘exfiltrated’ from the Stade de France where he was attending a football game. They then started having those “man on the street” interviews. “Well, no, I did not see anything. I heard firecrackers and my neighbour said…” You know, those highly emotional and mainly false accounts they are keen to use to stay on the air just in case…
So we turned the radio off and turned our computers on, browsing hopefully reliable newspapers websites.
What we were reading was terrible. And the accounts were still quite incomplete of course. But it sounded so horrible. Last January, when terror hit Paris twice, almost all of us in France became “Charlie” and we did believe this would never happen again. Not in Paris.
Of course it had happened again and again in Irak and Lebanon and Afghanistan and Syria of course but it all seemed so far away and in such unstable places that French people kept feeling safe in Paris because it is so easy to live blindfolded.
But we did keep busy arguing about refugees who were fleeing from the very dark forces that would attack and try to destroy our very complacent quietude a few days/weeks/months later. Because it was so much easier for so many people in Europe to turn against innocent victims than to think that one day, monsters were amongst us, as European as we are, born in Europe and raised and schooled in Europe. European citizens.
Early last night, someone tweeted that it only took a few hours of mayhem in Paris to get us to start understanding why thousands of refugees were willing to jump aboard an inflatable dinghy and risk their lives to live safely.
I am not even sure that this is going to happen. A story was already going around as early as Saturday morning. A kamikaze had supposedly lost his passport which had supposedly been issued to one of the refugees in Greece. This may be true or untrue. They tend to think right now that the passport was stolen. Anyway, who is going to remember what Gandhi said about the dirty drop in the ocean?
“You must not loose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
But in France, voices are already being heard asking for refugees to be sent back to Syria or elsewhere. Right at the moment when we should feel a lot of empathy because suddenly we feel pain and hurt and it is ghastly. You know, feeling insecure and in peril.
Yesterday, Paris was totally empty. Vacant. Everything was closed. The news were still quite imprecise. State of emergency had been solemly declared. Fear and ache were so tangible and yet it was still so unreal. You hear that Paris is under heavy fire and that there are a few casualties and during the night (nobody slept much last night), you learn that there are at least 129 dead plus more than 300 wounded persons, 99 of them between life and death, all of them because they had been shot.
I know that numbers do not mean much when read out of context. I read a post today written by a famous American travel agent who was trying to convince his countrymen that it would be safe to travel to Europe anyway since in the States, some 30.000 people die every year (just about 100 persons by day) because of gun violence. (I am brief there…)
The very high death toll on French roads cannot be compared to what happened on Friday night. My brother died in a car accident with a very, very high alcohol level in the blood. People whose family members and friends died last night while they were peacefully dining out or listening to a concert won’t most certainly mourn them the way I grieved.
Because whenever I travel by car, I hope that I won’t meet with some drunk driver who felt perfectly fine to take the wheel like my brother did. Even though he was the only casualty.
We are talking about accidental deaths which should be treated like manslaughter. In the States, there are a lot of first-degree and second-degree murders because of guns.
On Friday night in Paris, it was terrorism at work. Ugly and deadly terrorism. People shot at random, not even because of religious bigotry (Muslims killing non-believers. Because a few faithful Muslims were also killed at random that night). People shot at random because this kind of shooting is aimed at creating terror, hence the terms used to define the killers: they were first and foremost terrorists.
I still remember Paris in 1982 and 1983 and 1986 and 1995. Sometimes up to 6 terrorist bombings in one month. This was truly terrifying. We all kept on living rather normally because first there was no other choice for Parisians and second there was only one way to fight terrorism: we refused consciously and maybe sometimes unconsciously to show that we were afraid. At least we tried to. We were probably showing off mostly but it was very effective.
The hardest thing was hearing on the radio that a bomb had exploded somewhere you knew that one of your friends might have been during the day. There were no social networks then. We did not have cell phones either. I remember calling my friends: “Oh, great. You’re home. You allright? Your family?” And then life started anew again until the next bombing.
Last night Facebook was overflowing with messages. Lots were filled with pain and sorrow.
We have been warned that there may be replicas. Brussels too is under siege now since a few terrorists lived there before going on the rampage in Paris. The Belgian police has made quite a few arrests today and we know that there are nests of potentially dangerous fundamentalists in Brussels. This is where we’ll be heading tomorrow morning. Then we’ll be back to Paris because Popeye has meetings there and I need to go to the hospital. And then back to Brussels by train and back to Paris again, etc. Life must go on.
We have to keep living normally, at least the Parisians who came out of this terror rather unharmed. I mean, those who haven’t lost friends or family members. Those who haven’t been hurt. Those who haven’t lived through those horrible moments when their life was plunged into chaos and terror just because they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time (except that it was totally the right place and the right time until the terrorists arrived).
We have to keep on living normally on their behalf. Yesterday, we went to the restaurant with our friend as planned. We were "happy" because it was full of people. Parisians were indeed showing they were not afraid.
Well, maybe a little bit though. Cafés were totally empty outside but chairs and tables had been put up there as usual.
Anyway, don’t we keep flying all over the world when terrorists keep blowing planes up?
All my life I’ve been impressed by the Londoners’ tremendous courage during the “Blitz” (the Battle of Britain). The way they kept on working and living and loving while their homes were bombed at random and their neighbours, friends and loved ones were buried beneath the ruins.
Were Churchill still alive, he’d say again: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”