On Friday, November 13, 2015, at 10:38 pm, I received a text message – a Whatsapp message, to be more specific. I had just returned to my apartment in the 2nd arrondissement for the evening and I was sitting on my gray couch with my laptop. “Terrorist attacks in Paris” was all the message said.
I logged on to Google News and saw the headlines for myself. I don’t think I realized the gravity of the situation at that moment. As more messages poured in through my phone asking if I was safe, it began to sink in: I was in the middle of a deadly terrorist attack on the capital of my cherished France. The death toll was low when I first looked, but it kept rising from 30 to 50 to 60 to 80 to over 100 deaths in Paris… It was like with each refresh of my browser, more people had died. I didn’t have a TV in the apartment, but I ended up finding a live news stream on CNN’s website. The French borders had closed.
How could such a tragedy be happening just one beautiful neighborhood away from where I was? The beauty, the class, the magic, and the splendor of Paris were destroyed that night. I looked out my window from time to time. The Eiffel Tower still stood there above the rooftops I had grown accustomed to the past week. My street, lined with fashion shops was quiet as it usually is, but this time, it felt eerie somehow.
After receiving several emails from colleagues, I emailed my team to let them know I was safe. My boss emailed me back saying I should use caution and refrain from heading to the art fairs I was supposed to visit for work. We had already received news that most public institutions would be closed. Next, I logged onto Facebook where I was greeted by a Safety Check, asking me to mark myself “safe.” By the following morning, every single one of my Facebook friends in Paris had marked themselves safe.
Although my mind was racing, I forced myself to sleep at around 1am. The next morning I awoke and looked out my window. People were walking on the sidewalk and biking on the streets. It seemed to be a quiet Saturday morning in Paris. I looked to see if Paris Photo was open that day. No news except the viral drawing of the Eiffel Tower peace sign image on their Twitter account. I didn’t know any of the fair organizers, so I emailed a friend who worked at a gallery exhibiting at the fair and asked if he had any news. Thankfully, he wrote me back a minute later saying the fair organizers were still debating whether to open or not, but he was definitely not going to be attending.
So I waited. Finally, around noon, the fair announced it would close, not just for Saturday but for the whole weekend. By this point it was mid-day and I could see plenty of people on the streets. So I made myself some breakfast, ate it on my balcony, and took in the beautiful view I had over Paris.
As I exited my building, I saw things differently. For one thing, I paid more attention to the French flags around the city that I had previously taken for granted in passing. I shot the below photo on the morning of November 14, 2015, somewhere in Saint Germain. I found it beautiful to see this symbol of a country waving proudly in the wind.
I can’t say anything was visibly different on my streets. The sky was grey but the air was warm. People were walking, talking, and shopping. Of course, certain stores were closed, but some were open and welcoming. I guess that’s the thing about living in a big city – there are so many inhabitants that a city doesn’t really have a choice but to keep living. Parisians are also known to celebrate life so it’s no surprise they didn’t allow the terrorist attacks to scare them. Even Saturday night, as I walked down the Rue Montorgueil, there were layers upon layers of sidewalk tables filled with young Parisians drinking their wine and eating their dinners. After all, it was a beautiful night that fall evening.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my mind off the attacks. I couldn’t help but think about the victims who wouldn’t get to enjoy that beautiful fall Saturday.
The Paris Terror Attacks were the second major terrorist attack I lived through. On the night of the Paris shootings, I couldn’t help but think of the first attack on September 11, 2001, when I was a child growing up in Connecticut. I don’t remember much from my childhood, and I can only tell you the name of one of my high school teachers, but I remember 9/11 vividly. I remember sitting in my Science classroom at a round grey table watching footage of the towers burning. We didn’t know what to say or do – it was all so incomprehensible to our young minds. My teacher at my Catholic elementary school was named Mrs. Johnson and she was crying as she recalled the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination to us. I guess there are some events in life that you never forget.
My heart and prayers go to all the families of each victim.
Memorials to the Victims
I can’t put into words the sorrow I feel when I think of the attacks. I was living in what I can only describe as a disassociated state that weekend. I felt as if I had been removed from my life and placed in a surreal world. Each time I opened the news, I feared what I might read. The attacks were the deadliest France had seen since World War II. I prayed there would be no more cases of violence.
The following night after the attacks, the Eiffel Tower went dark. I had never seen the tower dark at night before. Looking out my balcony, I saw only a dark silhouette of what once lit up the skyline.
I didn’t use social media at all for a few days following the attacks. Somehow it felt silly to post photos of my latte when there were families who were dealing with the shock of losing a loved one to terrorism. Death is never easy to deal with, but I imagine that unexpected death at the hands of a terrorist is the worst kind of emotional pain to experience.
Nevertheless, I felt compelled to visit the memorials of the victims. I took the train towards the neighborhood of the attacks on the afternoon of Sunday, November 15, but the metro station nearby was closed. So I exited one stop early at Place de la République.
Unknowingly, I had entered into a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Place de la République, also a grieving site following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, now served as a commonplace for the French people to mourn following the attacks.
Around the central statue of Marianne, a woman embodying freedom, visitors left notes, candles, flowers, and drawings. Some cried, some were silent, and others were very vocal. Armed guards were present almost everywhere I went. At one point, the crowd began to sing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.
When I did begin to use Instagram again, I contributed to the hashtag #parisisaboutlife which became a popular way to stand up against terrorism. I loved the idea of celebrating the beauty of life in Paris and not letting the terrorists “win” at their disgusting game.