Last week in Paris

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.

Eiffel tower colored

 

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.

Peace.

 

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Pray for Paris

I am deeply saddened by the events of last night in Paris and my heart breaks for the victims and their families. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004.

The attacks rendered my first ever soccer game unforgettable. Our friends Elsa and Mickaël from Mulhouse are visiting us for the weekend and we went together to the Stade de France last night to cheer on the French national team, les Bleus, as they took on the German team. They have quite a rivalry so the atmosphere was great and the game itself was quite enjoyable. For the most part it was a game like any other. To top it off, France won 2-0.

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The mad behind us was receiving some news about the attacks at this moment…
About 20 minutes into the match, there was a huge boom outside of the stadium. To me, it sounded like a cannon going off. It was loud even over the sound of the cheering and the fog horns and the chanting. The whole stadium stopped, gasped, and looked to the east, from whence the sound came but the game continued as usual. After a minute the crowd focused again on the game in the field. Three minutes after the first explosion, there was an identical boom. Again, everyone was distracted, even the players hesitated for a second but there was no announcement or anything, and the game continued as usual. After a few minutes, I was ready to forget the booms and enjoy the game, because I thought, ‘what are the chances that something bad is actually happening?’ But Cyril was unnerved. He has a sixth sense for when something is going wrong- I think it is because he worked as a firefighter for 9 years and has seen shit go down. Cyril called his brother Clement, ‘Can you please look on the news and the internet? We heard explosions outside the stadium, could you please try to figure out if something is happening and call us back?‘ We couldn’t look on the internet ourselves because with all the people in the stadium the network was overwhelmed. A few minutes later, Clement called back, ‘there was a shooting at a Parisian cafe, but in the 10th arrondissement, far from the stadium.‘ We didn’t find out until afterwards, but the French president, François Hollande, was evacuated from the stadium after the explosions, and the stadium was locked down from the outside so that no one could enter or leave. This was probably a good thing, because if they had immediately told us what was going on I think the stadium would have panicked. Towards the end of the game, we received news of a few more attacks and more people killed in Paris from Clement and other fans sitting around us that had received the news from their loved ones.
At the end of the game, like it wasn’t a big deal, they announced, ‘Due to an incident, the east gate is closed, please exit out of the northern, western, and southern gates.
We decided to stay in the stadium after the game for a few extra minutes to avoid the crowds. As we descended to leave out of the southern gate, and looked outside, we saw everyone in the streets in a panic, stampeding back into the stadium. That was a truly terrifying sight. That was the moment where I was really scared, I thought, ‘OMG is there a shooter outside?’ We turned around and ran back inside the stadium, up to our seats.  People came streaming back into the stadium and stormed the field and ran up the bleachers like us. Luckily it turned out to just be a false panic where the crowd mentality took over. We stayed in the stadium for 25 minutes until they made us leave. There were cops everywhere outside, the side roads were barricaded, and they herded everyone towards the RER train stop (most people came to the stadium by public transportation).
We waited around 45 minutes for the train to leave the station. During this time we sent reassuring messages to our friends and family and tried to figure out exactly what was going on in Paris by following Twitter feeds and reading articles online. It was surreal because there were so many rumors and false reports going around, and the death toll was rising and rising. The hostage situation at the Bataclan concert hall was still ongoing, and no one knew for sure how many people were still inside. That was when we found out the blasts outside the stadium had been suicide bombers. 4 people were killed outside of the stadium, and 3 of them were terrorists.
Of course, we wanted to get home as soon as possible and avoid the areas of attacks, but half the metro lines and tram lines were shut down.  We finally got home at 1:30 am but turned on the TV and watched the news until 3, we were too agitated to sleep. TF1, one of the main French channels, kind of like ABC in the US, had cancelled all of its regular programming and was streaming the news. The crazy thing is that Cyril and I watched the same kind of news stream with Elsa and Mickaël before because we were in Mulhouse visiting them last January when the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks happened. It is not a very pleasant kind of déjà vu.
François Hollande has called a national state of emergency and the country is on high alert. Today many things are closed in Paris: the monuments, the museums, and many stores, and restaurants. We had planned to spend the day in Paris with our guests but are hanging tight at home and chilling instead.
Today we found out that the suicide bombers at the Stade de France had made a mistake. It could have been much worse. They had meant to come before the game and set off the bombs in the lines of people waiting to enter the stadium on the east side. I am so very thankful that it didn’t happen. There are only 4 entrances to the stadium, and getting in isn’t very efficient, so there were huge crowds outside waiting to enter. We stood in a line ourselves for over a half an hour before entering from the south.
To end on a positive note, it has been incredible to see the solidarity of the French people and the world in the face of this terrible act. The french police, firefighters, EMTs, and other emergency personnel were admirable last night.  People were using the hashtag opendoor and porteouverte on twitter and giving their address if strangers needed a place to stay.
To wrap it up, it was a crazy night, and a horrible night, but we are safe.
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