The mood in Paris since the terrorist attacks on Friday has been both somber and defiant.
Last weekend many stores, public buildings, and monuments were closed and events, shows, and sporting events cancelled. For example, the weekly comedy show that Cyril and I always attend was cancelled last Sunday.
Monday I taught a grand total of 15 minutes of English because the teachers had to debrief the children. I teach in elementary schools in Velizy, a southwest suburb of Paris, so it wasn’t near the attacks at all, but of course this attack is a very serious deal for the French, and feels especially personal to the Parisians. Every time I entered a classroom, the teacher would come up to me and say apologetically, ‘In light of recent events, I don’t have time for English today, but feel free to sit in the back of the classroom as you wait for your next class.‘ The teachers spent time talking to their students about what they heard about the attacks, why it happened, answering their questions, and trying to correct hearsay and false information. Then they did activities with them about patriotism and solidarity. One class made a peace sign with words of comfort that they would like to tell the families of the victims, like amité, sourire, and liberté (friendship, smile, liberty).
Some of the teachers were concerned about the amount of violence that their students had been exposed to. ‘Some parents have no common sense at all, seriously what were they thinking??‘
This week there were numerous minutes of silence. On Monday at 10 am the elementary school gathered on the playground for a minute of silence. There was a city-wide minute of silence in Paris at noon on Monday which a large of part of France joined in, along with people around the world. People gathered in the squares and at the memorials for the victims, or stopped whatever they were doing. Even the metro stopped! I was in a book store, they made an announcement over the intercom, and we gathered in the aisles for the minute of silence. Last night before I played a volleyball match, our team and the opposing team gathered in a circle for a minute of silence. One of the fans of the opposing team ran out of the gym, crying. I wondered if she knew someone who had died.
I didn’t know any of the victims, but I know people who know people who knew the victims. Cyril’s boss’s daughter had a good friend who died in the attacks, and the daughter had been with her friend earlier that night. One of my friend’s friends had a colleague who died. Cyril went to high school with someone whose friend was killed.
Security has been a lot tighter around Paris lately. Whenever I went into a store this week they searched my bag. They also searched us when we went to the premier of the last Hunger Games movie on Tuesday. The series is dark in general, but the material seemed heavier because of what happened. I thought about the attacks several times during the movie. I think that we are exposed to violence so much in movies and other media that we are numbed to it after a while, but it is terrible stuff.
After the film, Cyril and I went to see the Eiffel tower. For a few nights, it was lighten up red, white, blue in commemoration. It was absolutely breathtaking. The pictures are nice, but they don’t capture the feeling of seeing it in person. Is it possible to feel patriotic for a country that isn’t your own? We stayed there for an hour talking and gazing at it. People were pulling their cars to the side of the road in from of the Iena bridge to get out and look at it. At the top of the red band is Paris’s motto ‘fluctuat nec mergitur’, which means ‘she is tossed by the waves but does not sink’. Very fitting for a time like this.
Parisians are determined to not let the terrorists instill fear in them and keep them from living their lives so they are rallying. People are returning in force to cafes and restaurants with the rallying cry ‘Je suis en Terrace’ and ‘Tous au bistrot!’ ‘Everyone to the bistro!‘, and raising glasses of wine in celebration of a yearly wine festival that took place this past week.
It saddens me to see the backlash the attacks have created for refugees from the Middle East. If nothing else we should be more sympathetic to them now. Friday night was terrible in Paris, but every day it is worse were they come from. It is too easy to forget that.