The day after: A student’s reflection on Paris

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What can be said of the attacks on Paris? It is a horror beyond words. What can we offer but our total solidarity, our love? Friday night, as the tragedy unfolded in gruesome, gutting real-time before our eyes, Parisians offered their homes to those who needed shelter. The morning after they lined up outside hospitals to offer their blood.

I was, thank god, at home when news of the violence first broke. My mum rang me, panicked and shaken. I spoke to her, to my girlfriend, to my closest friend from home, to friends here in Paris, other friends messaged and tweeted me, Facebook allowed me to check myself as safe. The day after, I spoke to the university, to the teachers at the school where I work, to the French family I’m living with, to more friends, and again to my own family. This is what we can offer: our total solidarity, our love. It’s a lot more than nothing.

This morning, I had a meeting with my French bank to sort some papers. After what had happened, I arrived there thankful for the simple and boring everyday-ness of the task. The woman at the bank explained certain terms and conditions to me, had me sign and initial this and that. “Un jour triste”, she said to me as I was leaving. A sad day.

Afterwards I decided not to return home but to go into the centre of Paris, to the long and beautiful Rue de Rivoli. On the metro a young American family – mum, dad and toddler son – sat next to me. The dad had a map of Paris in hand; they continued to be tourists. At the Rue de Rivoli the Louvre was closed, and there were a noticeable police presence on the streets. But the Galignani bookshop remained open and I went in, surprised by how busy it was. Afterwards that I walked the length of the Rue de Rivoli, past the Tuileries, the Louvre, the Joan d’Arc, the Hôtel de Ville. The city was quieter than usual, but not silent. Amid the low hum of activity there lay a collective sense of togetherness, a knowing that everyone else had been there too, that the thoughts of all lay in the same place. In the café where I stopped for lunch, the air remained full of people’s conversations, and life went on.

Life doesn’t quite just go on, though. After lunch I walked to the Place de Vosges. It was being patrolled by a couple of police officers, and as I entered, one blew a whistle told me the park was closing early. Then I received an email from one of the teachers I worked with. She was fine, she said, relieved to hear I was okay. The school where I work is in Saint-Cloud, wealthy, chic neighbourhood just outside of Paris. The vast majority of its students, however, have to travel a considerable distance each morning from the banlieues, or suburbs, on the outskirts of Paris. Many of them them are young people of colour, many are first or second-generation immigrants, and many of them Muslim. I worry that in addition to the tragic loss of human life, Friday’s attacks will make their lives even harder. I worry that this wonderful, beautiful but flawed country, and the continent that surrounds it, will react to the violence and hatred that took place. I hope beyond hope that France’s reaction will not be to turn on these young people and their families. What can we offer but our total solidarity and our love? “So terribly scary and sad and it is not over”, my colleague said to me in her email. “Monday might be difficult”.

Image credit: Tristan Nitor