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Caitlin Miller is a Bay Area native living in Paris.
It’s not easy for me to put into words the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that have been running through my head since the horror of Friday night. This is my attempt as a young American woman who has been living and working in Paris for over a year to explain my experience.
I was dressed up as Ginny Weasley at my local watering hole in the 5th arrondissement, equipped with a piece of bread as my “baguette” de magique (wand). It was Friday night and I was wearing proper Hogwarts attire for a Harry Potter themed goodbye party. My friend Anne* was about to leave on a 6-month trip to North America and it was her last chance to be together with all of her closest friends, so what better place to meet than our favorite bar, disguised as our characters from our favorite books? I was casting the occasional “Wingardium Leviosa” and “Accio Beer!” amongst carefree dancers enjoying what seemed to be the start of another magical night in Paris.
Less than an hour into the fun, Anne leaned over to tell me that there had just been a shooting over near Canal Saint Martin. The word spread quickly and it was quite a shock of course, but as we were not anywhere near the incident and we didn’t have any information yet in regards to its severity, we continued on. Our light-hearted festivities quickly grew very somber as news kept pouring in: explosions near the Stade de France, a hostage situation at the Bataclan, more shootings. The dance music and sporting events on the TVs were replaced with a news station and its audio. Chatter was reduced to whispered confusion. We were sending messages to loved ones to let them know we were safe and away from danger… But then more news trickled in. Someone’s close friend had been shot in the arm. Another’s was at the Eagles of Death Metal concert and hadn’t sent word. And what could we do but sit, watch, listen, and wait? Was I supposed to go home? Would I be safer there or here? What about all of my friends? Did they have somewhere safe to go? There were shooters still out there, would they come towards this part of the city? How could this be happening again just nine months after Charlie Hebdo?
I stayed at the bar for a few hours, trying to make sense of what was happening before returning to my nearby apartment. By that time the streets were empty save for a lone motorist and a constant stream of vans full of police on alert.
Saturday morning I woke up not because of the usual hustle-and-bustle sounds of a main city street, but because of the heavy, nearly complete silence. The small market and the bakery across the street were open and had customers yet the usual loud greetings of friendly faces and lively chatter was lacking. Missing were the constant buzz of cars and thundering motorcycles, the laughter of passerby, the delighted cries of children making their way to the park. When I built up the courage to venture outside and go for a run in the Jardin de Luxembourg with my roommate, we found it closed with gendarmes patrolling and stationed around the entrances. We continued around the circumference and did find many people walking outside enjoying the sun, but conversations were hushed and the typical background noise was blaring in its absence.
It seemed as if the City of Lights had become a shadow of itself. More than 120 people had been nonsensically murdered, hundreds more injured, and an entire city had been left in a state of turmoil and confusion. People, human people with thoughts and feelings, attacked us along with our sense of security. It is not my place to make judgments on these individuals or to guess at their motivations and desires. I will not accuse any party or ideology for being responsible for this madness. What I will do is continue to live life to the fullest. I cannot forget what has happened, nor do I want to. But I can try to fight the fear that has been created by laughing with my friends over a dinner out, by continuing to go on my (not-so-daily) run around a public park, and by forcing myself to leave the supposed security of my apartment.
Last night, just one night after the tragic attacks, people were still eating out at restaurants, they were still meeting up at bars for drinks, they were still living their lives. Yes, it was probably the quietest Saturday Paris has experienced in recent history, but the defiance and refusal of its residents to submit to fear was deafening.
Thanks to Eva Slusser for acting as Youth Radio’s Special Correspondent for France.