Friday evening began just like any other. My little boy finished school at lunchtime, headed to his Daddy’s restaurant for his usual Friday night chocolat chaud and then we lit the fire, fed the dog and ate a warming supper before tucking him into bed. I turned on the news around 11pm to catch up on the day’s events before following suite and my heart sank as I saw French security police once again running through the streets of Paris, armed and dealing with yet another terrorist attack in the city. I’ve spent the weekend reading about the perpetrators, the families with an empty chair this Sunday at their lunch table and the general heartfelt misery resonating around the world. I just saw Madonna crying on stage at her concert with all sincerity and I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say I felt afraid swimming in my local pool yesterday afternoon. I’m trying not to imagine myself in their shoes, the fear, the tears, the loss of breath, the lights going out. The fear is widespread, threatening, lurking and inescapable. It hammers home our vulnerability, our paranoia, the ease with which such terror can occur and how we have to remain true to who we are to survive. We have to remember but move on.
I’m not French but I have lived in France for more than a decade and I’ve always felt safe here. This year, I had a strange feeling when travelling back on the Eurostar after Christmas, a horrible, scared feeling that worried and bothered me but I didn’t know why I felt like I did. Then Charlie Hebdo happened and I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing, this wasn’t a war torn country, a frightening place somewhere far away, it was two hours from where I live by train. It felt chillingly close and more than anything I worried about my son’s safety at creche. I stayed in Republique a few years ago, not far from the La Place in an apartment with quintessential French views of the city. I remember thinking it was edgy, a bit dangerous after dark but had charm and a real mix of ethnicity. It was this time of year we visited to the day and I wrote a blog at the time on Baguettes and Roses. Here is an extract –
From our apartment in republique we could see Sacre Coeur, tour montparnasse and beyond, all in a misty wet wintery way but so romantic all the same. A gorgeous man in the cafe next door gave us a free apero and told us about his collection of 2000 shoes! We did the tourist thing and hopped on a tour bus around the sights of this structured but free feeling city. I treated myself to a camel beret and drank kir at teatime with the other thirty somethings on their way home from work. On and off the metro we floated, to the Louvre, Tour Eiffel and on to a tear jerking service in Notre Dame, eating and drinking all the way…The brasserie Lipp was an amazing find, full of buzz and excitement, waiters frantically toing and froing in floor length pinnies – archetypical of a Parisian bistro. Joking with bags of ooh la la about men who prefer a plump, full breast and those who like a skinny leg – chicken of course but hilarious all the same. I’m all for a bit of cheeky humour and this place filled my veins with France, frenchness and everything I love about this warm and tender place. After dark we headed to the lights of St Germain to young people and bars open til the small hours. We took it all in, I pined over pink lace up brogues in the shop windows and we sadly considered what a shame we can’t afford to live here.
And that’s why my heart bleeds and my eyes well every time I see these shocking images of a place I feel I know so well. It isn’t a million miles away from home, it isn’t an uncivilised place, it is the city I spent my hen party along the banks of the seine, dancing on tables, laughing until we cried. A city I stayed in Republique and visited the sites with my husband. A place I lit a candle in Notre Dame and listened to the most enchanting music, frequented the cafés and leafy boulevards, eating, drinking kirs and soaking up the French way of life. Like hundreds of other young people every Friday night, I enjoyed France at its best. Paris is relaxed, cultured, stylish and friendly, a normal place, with people leading normal lives. I can’t stop thinking about this beautiful place left heartbroken and afraid and the sound of that gunfire doing rounds in my head. I worry about travelling with my three year old, would he keep his head down and be quiet in the face of this atrocity? No, and I’m not sure I would be brave enough to either.
I’ll be lighting my tealights tonight to remember and reflect. I’ll be thinking of those young people whose twinkling lights were blown out too soon, of their families left wondering what the future holds. I’m sending my thoughts and love to them all and bidding them goodnight x