Paris remains defiant even as it mourns victims

Parisians experience a range of emotions after the attacks in 11th arrondissement

French interior minister says Paris attacks were planned abroad, support might have come from militants in Belgium. Video: Reuters

 

The city of light stumbled through its darkest weekend, numb with grief and anxiety. Many stayed at home, as authorities had recommended. One or more of the jihadists who killed 129 people on Friday night are believed to be still at large.

But despite a ban on public demonstrations, people gathered in the Place de la République, or behind the police line outside the Bataclan concert hall, to leave flowers, candles, stuffed animals and cards, the now familiar memorials to those killed in terrorist attacks.

So many Parisians and tourists turned up to donate blood for the 350 wounded that they had to be turned away.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke of her “fright and terror”. It was, she said, “the most deadly attack Paris has ever known . . . All Parisians are in mourning and share the grief of the victims and their families. But we’re still standing. Our freedom and values are intact.”

When jihadists killed 17 people in Paris last January, the world adopted the slogan “Je suis Charlie” in solidarity with the journalists killed at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Now the slogans are “Je suis Paris” or “Pray for Paris” often accompanied by a graphic of the Eiffel Tower as a peace sign.

“The problem is we’re peaceful people who aren’t prepared for this kind of situation,” said Patrice Pelloux, an emergency doctor and former columnist at Charlie Hebdo. “We didn’t know what war was like and now we’re in it.”

Grief and anger were the emotions described by Dubliner Anselme Blayney, who with his Anglo-French wife Alice Quillet owns a restaurant in the 18th district and the Ten Belles café in the 10th, “too close for comfort” to the Petit Cambodge and Carillon, where 15 people were shot dead.

Political significance

Blayney and Quillet, both 35, describe the neighbourhood as young and ethnically mixed. “It’s an area of no political significance,” he said. “It was very random.”

The couple were dining Friday night at a restaurant half-way between the Petit Cambodge and the Bataclan music hall, where 89 people were killed. Because the place had no metal curtain, police told everyone to hide in the kitchen with the lights off.

Staff locked the door and clients used their mobile phones to try to find out what was happening.

Blayney and Quillet were eventually able to walk home. “People were surprisingly calm,” she said. “You could see people coming back from the Stade de France, very calmly.”

Ten Belles café was closed on Friday night, but the staff live around the scene of the attack, so Blayney and Quillet’s first concern was to contact all to make sure they were safe. Several were stuck in kitchens or cellars until 3am.

A wider search for loved ones continued all weekend. Parisians posted heartbreaking tweets with the hashtag #rechercheParis. A father said he had no news of his daughter Lola, who attended the concert at the Bataclan.

“No word from my brother,” a young woman tweeted. Most included a photograph. Some described what the missing person was wearing.

Despite the fear and trauma, Blayney said the attacks won’t change anything. “We need to keep calm and carry on,” he said, using the second World War British slogan.

“I’m definitely not afraid for the months ahead. I think the French people and politicians will stand up to Islamic State.”

If there can be a positive aspect to such horror, it is that Parisians have a deeper understanding of what life is like in the Middle East. “While it was horrendous last night, it’s what people in Syria have lived with for more than four years,” Blayney said.

Inhabitants of the ill-fated 11th district, scene of the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan massacres, said they are almost getting used to such violence. A West Indian manager of a computer company said he mainly felt “disgust”.

Brave face

Few admitted to being afraid. “It would be easy to be afraid, but we mustn’t give up,” said a secondary school student. “We mustn’t show we’re afraid.”

I asked a middle class, middle-aged couple who walked past the police line in front of the Bataclan carrying their morning baguette and croissants if they were afraid. “Of course,” said Laurence (45), a software distributor.

“You mustn’t say that!” snapped her partner, Emmanuel (40), a doctor.

The couple had rushed home from a restaurant to comfort their frightened teenage daughter when the shooting started on Friday night. The friends who were dining with them sheltered in their apartment until 3am.

Like almost everyone I talked to, Laurence and Emmanuel said the attacks would not change the way they live. “Did the twin towers change the way New Yorkers live?” Emmanuel asked rhetorically.

Fatalistic element

Some Parisians have adopted a fatalistic attitude, not unlike that which one encounters in the Arab world. “Go where you wish, die where you must,” Alain, the 75-year-old owner of a steel tool company told me, quoting a French proverb.

Alain also expressed the widespread longing for authority in the wake of the attacks. “The government must be more severe,” he said. “They have to be tougher with people who shouldn’t be here . . . Those people have to be eliminated; removed from Europe.”

“I lived through the black years [of the 1990s war between the military and Islamists] in Algeria,” said Mahmoud Aouam (40), a restaurant manager. “I escaped from a nightmare, and now it has followed me here.”

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