Month: November 2015

Part IV: Rumors and False Alarms

After spending the entire Saturday indoors, we decided to venture outside on Sunday. It had been hard reading all of the comments, opinions, and theories on social media, watching people ride the coat-tails of Paris in order to promote their cause. I won’t get into how angry it made me feel in this particular post.

I did my hair and make-up, threw on some heels, and arm-in-arm, Anaël and I went out.
Stepping outside felt great! It was a beautiful autumn day: not too cold and sunny. Perfect biking weather!
It was a little bizarre, however, because streets were still quite silent when they should have been chaotic. I was very aware of how vulnerable it was to be outside, but onwards and forwards!

We got on our Vélibs and rode out in the direction of Vincennes, under the belly of Paris by Porte de Charenton, until the 13th arrondissement, and then entered on the quais of the Seine. We passed by Notre-Dame. It was closed, with policemen everywhere. A slap in the face and a reminder of what had happened. We pedaled past it. I tried to ignore it as a lump in my throat started forming.

Getting to Saint-Michel (which, in retrospective wasn’t the best idea ever) was almost a relief- it was packed with people walking the narrow streets. Businesses were open: little souvenir shops, restaurants, bars…
We set up camp in a terrace (because fuck you, terrorists, that’s why), ordered some pints and tried to have a normal afternoon. It was the most rebellious act we could think of for the moment.
A few moments later we were joined by a friend and the afternoon slipped into a lazy Sunday evening.
Someone was playing jazz in a corner nearby, the music wafting everywhere. People were pouring out into the streets, their pints and cigarettes in hand, conversations of all types floated around. A big sign where the outside menu of the bar used to be now said “WE ARE NOT AFRAID”.

Right as we had let our guard down, a lady on her cellphone approached us.
“Be careful!”, she said, urgently, “Something happened at BHV”.
BHV? BHV is a few blocks away, on the other side of the river.
A split second passed in which we all made eye contact and we just split.
We ran further into the heart of the neighborhood, when we realized people were casually sipping on coffees and glasses of wine. We entered another bar (you know, like how in Shrek 2 the people of Far Far Away Land run from one Starbucks to the other), sat down and began to watch the news: a stampede in République had broken out, but in the end, it was nothing.
Was this to be our life now? To be perpetually paranoid?
It’s only because it’s still fresh, I told myself. It’ll be ok. Tomorrow we will go back to work and life will go on. 

Part III: Silence

Porte de Montreuil, or, Montreuil rather, is known for hosting a flea market every weekend.
It’s not your hipster flea market where you find antiques and little gems. It’s more like a place where you go get fleas. The stalls are all crammed up against each other in a sort of organized chaos, tattered clothes and shoes lay in piles for people to scavenge through, men catcall and sell “Marlboros pas cher”…
Anyway, weekends are never relaxing in my neighborhood. There are always big crowds coming to and from the market, the metro is packed with people carrying boxes or large bags. Even indoors, you can clearly hear the rhythmic sound of the hooves from the horses of mounted police patrolling the streets, or the children during their soccer matches across the building in the sports complex.

The morning of Saturday, November 14th, I opened my eyes to utter silence.

When I say that it was time to begin to grieve, I do not mean it in a dramatic way. It’s an essential part of the process. The deafening silence outside my window reminded us of what had happened just a few hours before, the sun shone for a little while, as if mocking us; the soccer field was empty, there was no market, no sound of hooves, no people.

What happened? How could they do this? How are people so twisted, so perverse, so evil, so sordid, so demented? Could this have been prevented? Is it the government trying to start something? Is this part of some crazy conspiracy to sell arms? Why would they target their own citizens? When is it going to happen again? How are we preparing for the next attack? Did they get those guys?

Should we go out and show our defiance? Should I stay home just in case? I’m sure people are out! We debated the question time and time, but hesitation kept us indoors. A report of an “explosion” (which later turned out to be just firecrackers) in a town next to ours made it clear it was the right decision.

At some point, though, we were going to have to go outside. But how to gather the courage?

Friday the 13th, Part II: As I Lived It

The alerts started pouring in: Explosion at French Stadium turned into “Explosions at Stade de France”, “Shootout in 10th Arrondissement”, and they didn’t get any better. Suddenly, the information of what was happening painted a perfectly clear image: they were coming down Boulevard Voltaire.
Suddenly, I wasn’t tired. The texts and messages started coming in and out: please be safe, are you ok?, don’t leave your house, is your mom/sister/family/friend ok?, yes, I’m ok, have you heard from X?
There was a moment of real panic where my partner could not reach his mother. He called and called and called. His mother has a very active social life, and enjoys going to restaurants and cafés. Where was she that night?
Eventually, he was able to contact her. She was fine. We stared at each other. What the hell was going on!?

I started thinking about work. I can see Stade de France from my office. The only thing that separates me from it is a street. I walk in front of it every morning and every evening, I go to the McDonald’s next to it, I know people who work there (one of them is expecting a baby soon). How could they do this? What could possibly drive someone to this?

Oberkampf, I was supposed to have been there. I was supposed to have been on Boulevard Voltaire having a drink at a terrace. Most likely nothing would have happened to us, but what if it did? What is the difference between the people who were gunned down and me? Nothing. There are absolutely no differences. That entire area is not for people with money, au contraire, it caters to middle class people, with sensible prices and no-frills decorations. It’s such a lively place at night, with people spilling into the sidewalks having pints, a glass of wine, munching on chips, smoking cigarettes, having heated discussions, making out in the corner…

The apartment turned into a sort of bunker: the shutters were drawn, the door was locked with all locks available.
Porte de Montreuil is not next to Voltaire, but it does have a large immigrant population which sadly has not assimilated (I blame the government for this, but that’s another subject). Suddenly, Porte de Montreuil did not feel so safe. My neighbors could be targeted by angry people, all pigeon-holed in the mentality that “they are all the same”.

Another thing you need to know about Porte de Montreuil is that it is quite close to Vincennes, where there is a large army base. It is not uncommon to run into fully-armed soldiers on the métro coming back from a day of training on the other side of the city. Even they use public transportation!
But that night, all those curious memories of men in uniform riding with regular citizens evaporated. Helicopters were flying overhead. They were taking off. A manhunt was underway, hostages were being held, people wre being butchered while I stared at my computer screen in disbelief.

News poured in without stopping. I didn’t know how to feel: sad, angry, scared- I was fine, nothing had happened to me, but I chose Paris! I chose this city! Even with all its chaos and madness, this is the place I want to live! My life is here, my partner is here, my work is here, my heart is here.
Feeling weary, I finally gave in to sleep at around 4am. The hostage situation was over, the death count began, and like a small child, I sought the arms of my partner for protection.

Saturday would definitely be a day of recovery.

Friday the 13th, Part I: A Regular Day

Let me start with possibly the most cliché of expressions: it was just like any other day.

I got up, made myself some coffee, got on the tramway and went to work.
It was going to be a good day, filled with people I like. I taught lessons on “breaking the ice”- we did vocabulary, explained why I kept saying “fat penguin”, talked about conversation starters, giving compliments, and role-played scenarios.
I then went to my office, in La Plaine-Stade de France, where I taught two more classes, and then went on my merry way, along with a friend, to the RER B. We said good-bye at Gare du Nord, and I took line 5 to Oberkampf, where I always change lines to go home. It’s a really quick commute, in terms of time. Plus I like that area: République, Oberkampf, Filles du calvaire- they have some really great happy hours!

Before going home, I had to run an errand near Bastille. I exited at the big July Column, and made my way up Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. It’s a lively street with little bars, kebab places, bakeries that make your mouth water, and shops (Hema!). After the errand, I was exhausted:
“Is it ok if we move date night to tomorrow?”, I asked my partner. “I’m super tired”.
“D’accord”, he said.

I didn’t feel like taking the métro, so I decided to continue walking, almost until Nation, where I took the bus, and ate some chocolate I had bought earlier.
Nation is nice at night: there are two gigantic pillars on Avenue du thrône, there are many bars: Le canon, le Voltaire, God Save the Kitchen… everything is illuminated. It’s not my ultimate favorite, but it’s nice, and it’s super close to the apartment!

At around 8:30pm, I received a call from my boyfriend. He was out of karate and really wanted to go out. I repeated I was tired. He wasn’t so happy this time around. I felt guilty and almost threw on my coat: “Ok, let’s go out, then. Let’s go to Oberkampf or something”.

I was dozing on the couch, the discussion of the cancelled outing had ended, when I received the first text at around 10pm. It was my cousin, Annabella, from Houston: “I heard about the shooting in Paris. What happened? Are you OK?”
Huh?
I closed the message, without replying, and found AP alerts: “Explosions at French Stadium”.
That’s crazy, I thought, I was just there today…