On Saturday morning, I woke up, turned off my heater, and looked at my phone. Every single messaging app had a bubble with double digits on it; all the messages said the same thing: “Where are you? Are you okay? Why don’t you respond? Please respond.” I thought it was a dream; I didn’t understand why I wouldn’t be okay, and why, out of all nights, the fact that I didn’t respond past midnight would seem bizarre and troubling to my loved ones.
Hours before the buzzing of my alarm clock, Paris had lived through the worst attack in its history, leaving hundreds of young Parisians dead or severely injured. The hours that followed were a blur between calling friends, fixating in front of the news for hours, asking the same questions over and over again: “Ça va ? Tu étais où ? Ton entourage ça va ?” (Are you okay? Where were you? Your friends, they’re all okay?), and bracing yourself for the answers, not knowing what to say.
These barbaric attacks bring us all sorts of political, societal, and cultural questions. We can discuss the how or why, whether or not anti-Semitism plays a role, talk endlessly about immigration and the Syrian refugee crisis, attempt to explain de radicalization of young European citizens turning against their own countries, but all these questions and discussions have passed to a secondary focus in the days following the events of Friday night, at least in the hearts of young Parisians.
A discussion of life, love, and a defiant, rambunctious, unapologetic attitude has taken the forefront. Despite the many other complex factors that we will surely discover as the attacks are analyzed in depth by authorities, these murderous events are, for us, an attack on the way we live our life. The English translation of the Daesh (the name used by France to refer to the Islamic State) statement claiming responsibility for the attacks calls Paris the “capital of prostitution and obscenity” and the Bataclan concert hall a fête de perversité, a “perverse party” (French statement), further emphasizing this sentiment.
I have a freakishly acute knowledge of France— for an American. Ever since I was a child, I was obsessed with the language; I wanted to be in Marie Antoinette’s court when I grew up (I was a special child), and I dreamed of living in Paris. While my motivations and love for France as a child may have been driven by stereotypes and children’s stories, as a young adult, this desire did not go away. Every academic and professional decision I have made, I did with moving to France in mind. I speak French, I majored in European Politics, and I worked for the French government for a lengthy period of time. I have spent every penny I’ve ever made on grad school applications, French exams, plane tickets, and the translations of all my documents. I cried inconsolably for days every time I got denied to grad schools in Paris (for 3 years in a row), and I became extremely bitter towards people that suggested I moved to Canada or elsewhere, for that matter.
I was, and still am, convinced that there is nowhere else in the world where I could be and do what I wanted: eat good food, walk for blocks without noticing, jump into a train and go to an exhibit I just heard about, drink with friends at random hours of the day, marvel at this beautiful city under the rain, go to rap concerts (my guilty pleasure) at the Bataclan, fall in love with someone who is a great cook and a smooth talker. Never did I think that the feelings and desires that have driven my whole life and brought me here would be the very same principles that would be so offensive to a group of radicals, viciously planning and executing the death of innocent young people.
I’ve had my favorite memories in Paris: curry with my best friend in the 11th arrondissement, walking (and then falling) down the street at 6 a.m. and watching the sun come up as I drunkenly stumbled onto the bus, dropping everything and running to a terrace because the sun came out, reading at my favorite bookstore for hours, sitting in the park looking timidly into the eyes of someone I cared about, dancing at a house party, and squeezing into a seat next to a stranger just because this is the best happy hour in town.
No amount of terror will take away the little experiences that make life in this city and in this country so rich. No one’s philosophy will take away the loud laughs with friends, the strong conviction to not just the right to life but to live every day, which binds this city together. It is this philosophy that Paris is screaming at the top of its lungs.
On Sunday, I reluctantly left my apartment after 24 hours of staring at the news. It was a beautiful day, and my neighborhood was as vibrant as it always is, with children eating pastries, the shiny skins of chickens roasting, the fishmonger yelling out the specials. As I made the line at my bakery (I’ve tried all the bakeries in the neighborhood, and we finally have a winner!), I call friends to see if they’re out. Under the blue, white, and red lights of the Eiffel Tower, Paris was never afraid.
Meme pas peur(“not even scared”) is written on huge black letters on a banner at Place de la République above the candles, flowers, and photos laid out to those we lost. We are not afraid. We will drink, we will kiss in public, we will go dancing, and you can’t stop us. Social media comes alive with “Paris is about life” and other phrases pushing people to go out and continue their life. A popular foody site, Le Fooding, launches a campaign #tousaubistrot for people to head out to bistros with friends.
Back in class, we pass security and nod kindly as they check our student IDs. The wall in the courtyard displays a blank canvas, and within a few hours, it is covered with quotes, drawings, and messages in every language. All my classes on this day are carried out in huge amphitheaters, students sitting in every seat. Every time the door opens, I can feel my heart skip a beat. Professors give us the choice to talk about what had just happened, but we say no. On the way home, I worry about rush hour, I make my way down the stairs and stare blankly around me, feeling paranoid. I tell myself that maybe this revolutionary French spirit is not inside me, that I can’t say I’m not afraid.
“Fluctuat Nec Mergitur” is the motto of Paris; it means “She is beaten by the waves but does not sink.” Today, for Paris, it means “You will not beat us. We will continue on,” and in this time of sadness and darkness, the response is loud and clear: we may be at war; mais on vous emmerde !* (Screw you!”)
As I take off my coat and hang it on the back of my chair, I give my friend a tight hug, our cheeks a pink hue from the cold and our hair frizzy from the rain. We talk about work, school, and my noisy neighbor who finally moved out. Paris is about life, I think, and all of a sudden, I’m not so afraid.
By Diana Galban