Paris in Mourning
There were so many other things to write about today until this happened. “This” is of course, the events of Friday night that sent shockwaves across Paris, across Europe, across the oceans.
As most other Parisians, we were oblivious to what was taking place only a few blocks away. There we were, having a sumptuous dinner at one of our favorite restaurants — Chez Janou — with a group of new friends/old friends drinking up and pay no attention to anything, but what was before us. It was very noisy and everyone was talking and laughing (a lot) in loud tones to hear each other and themselves. The din was deafening.
About 10:30 p.m. we reeled out of the restaurant to a symphony of sirens. Two young women sitting on a stoop called to us in French to “go home now,” explaining that there had been some sort of explosion or bombs and there was a curfew imposed. It was surprising, but still we knew nothing. Three of the gentleman walked me home passing ambulances along the way. Others on the street seemed to be determined to get somewhere, anywhere, but where they were.
Once at home the sirens continued. Naturally, the first thing to do was turn on France 24 and also CNN to see what was up. The story that was unfolding was incredible, unbelievable. In the neighboring district, at venues we frequent, there had been terrorist attacks killing many people…and it wasn’t over yet.
We all now know the history and the statistics. The news is incessant. The numbers are rising as I write this as those who were severely injured die. I need not repeat them here.
Most of us couldn’t sleep that first night, glued to the TV to see what was happening a stone’s throw away. The sirens continued for a long time. I made a few calls, sent a few messages to key family and friends. Then from sheer exhaustion, I passed out. Overnight, the cell phone beeped with messages and one call came through in the middle of the night, worried about my safety.
An early morning call came in from a client arriving that morning. “I’m stranded in Barcelona. The news says 140 people have died. I’m not sure when we’ll fly in.”
The TV was popped on and the shock started to set in at hearing the reports. I didn’t know what to do first or do with myself. There was a dead silence on the streets. A pin could have dropped without being heard. The computer was burning up with emails, text messages and Facebook messages pouring in from around the world:
“Please let us know you are safe.”
“My prayers are with you.”
“I watched the news reports with dismay and horror.”
“We are heartbroken.”
“The American people stand with you in sorrow.”
That’s how the day started. It turned out very differently than planned, ending just as unexpected. I had it on the agenda to go to Paris Photo for the afternoon to really ‘see’ the work on the gallery walls, rather than ‘schmooze’ with gallery owners and “photophile” friends like I had done on Wednesday evening during the opening. Then, dinner was planned with visiting friends from the States, here specifically for the fair. None of that happened as planned.
As we watched the news all day Saturday, we waded through the barrage of emails and Facebook messages. I say “we” — meaning me along with a couple of close friends who were experiencing the same kind of morning. Too ‘antsy’ to stay in, we agreed to meet at noon at Café Charlot to see what was going on. It was surprising to find the street busy with shoppers and the cafe filled to the brim with people — seemingly no different than any other Saturday…but everyone seemed out of sorts. I moved tables three times before settling in at one of the round tables in the center. I was out of sorts, too.
The client stranded in Barcelona became ‘unstranded.’ Her flight took off and she arrived mid afternoon. Air France claimed they weren’t canceling flights. It wasn’t easy to get into Paris considering the reduced number of trains and other modes of transport. We met her at her new apartment not far away — the first time she has seen it since the decorative work had been done to it by Martine di Mattéo.
I didn’t even know whether Paris Photo was open or not, but I just didn’t go. The Web site reported:
“PARIS PHOTO 2015 IS CLOSED. Under the order of the Ministry of Culture and the Prime Minister, all cultural institutions in Ile-de-France are closed this weekend.”
Not surprised, but lord what a blow to the galleries and artists and publishers and collectors who invested so much in their participation of the show. It’s just one of the many events taking place in the city that were affected by the attacks. But who cares? There is way more on our minds…like the hundreds of innocent people who have lost their lives or were injured.
Paris Photo was one of the several things I wanted to write about today. Every year I go and take in my favorite artistic medium on a massive scale. Set at the Grand Palais, the galleries from all over the world fill the enormous hall with their finest representations. I ogle and drool over many of the images of which I’ve grown so fond and those I’ve never seen before. There are always lots of friends and colleagues with which to network. The people-watching is exemplary as the gallery owners, photography artists and collectors are the kind of people who like to see and be seen. It’s a blast and I wanted more of it…like planned for Saturday afternoon. But that didn’t happen.
The city Web site “http://www.paris.fr” took on a new face and directly addressed the attacks and nothing else. The plan is for the weekend to have been our mourning period and today, come back to life and order. Today midday will be a minute of silence throughout the land. (Visit the site for more detailed information.)
Saturday evening we stayed close to home, dined in on roast chicken, red wine, red berries and chocolate. The news stayed on in the background as we tried to relax without missing anything important. Cities around the world were showing solidarity paying vigil at the French embassies while Paris was simply at home mourning, trying to make sense of the nonsensical carnage.
We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what to feel. We don’t understand any of it.
The U.S., as elsewhere, is organizing vigils at French consulates and other locations — Miami, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Boston… Be there to show your support, while we are in our ‘don’t know what to do, don’t know what to feel or understand’ mode (see more about the vigils at moveon.org/).
Sunday afternoon, all of Paris came to Place de la République and the sites where the massacres took place. Flowers were being placed and candles were being lit. The press was stationed in these spots by the droves — one van lined up after another. I stood an arm’s length from CNN’S Christiane Amanpour reporting at Place de la République — meaning the ‘big guns’ were here.
The people of Paris were very solemn, respectful, sad. There were tears — lots of them. Groups were singing and chanting. One group posed for photos and made a speech. A procession of people were walking from one site to the next, then waiting patiently to get up to the front to see the adornments, signs and paraphernalia placed at the feet of the bullet holes and the blood stains.
I stood outside Le Petit Cambodge, a restaurant I had dined at with my daughter and our friends, Véronique Husson and her daughter, Rokia, not all that long ago thinking, “that could have been us.”
Chef and author, Susan Herrmann of On Rue Tatin fame, lunched with me at Café Chilango a little Mexican restaurant on rue de la Folie Mericourt (#82), just the sort of place the terrorists targeted — young and hip. Sitting next to us were two young reporters from Bloomberg’s London office who ended up interviewing Susan on camera. She was great, fulfilling their ‘sound bite’ wish list like a media pro.
The afternoon was too emotionally draining to stay on plan to attend “A Picasso,” a play in English at the Théâtre de Nesle for which I had tickets. It was the last night of the performances and the last chance to see the play, but no one was in the mood for being in ‘denial’ of the recent events. We were still in mourning and wanted to stay there a while longer.
It was a good thing, as about 7 p.m. I heard people screaming and running down my street. Everyone came out of their windows to look to see what was going on. At that moment a friend called standing on rue Saint Antoine and I could hear the sirens in the background. Another friend called from rue Dupetit Thouars to report she heard bullets and with others ducked into a bookstore in a panic until they could leave and go home. She said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave home.”
France24 reported on it, but there was mass confusion by the press, too. One minute there was panic, one minute calm. They didn’t know what to make of it. Everyone is on edge, like feeling the aftershocks of a major earthquake.
Meanwhile, there’s lots of bad news for immigrants and Muslims. The news that one of the terrorists was a Syrian migrant won’t help the Syrians seeking refuge all over Europe. National Front Leader Marine Le Pen delivered hate messages making strong speeches about annihilating Islamist radicals, regaining control of France’s borders and using the recent events to support her right-wing politics for the upcoming presidential election.
“Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated, France must ban Islamist organizations, close radical mosques and expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal migrants who have nothing to do here,” she said. With speeches like this, I wonder what the hundreds of thousands of non-radicalized Muslims are feeling as they are being blamed for the few ‘rotten apples’ among them. It’s a relief not to be a Muslim in France.
Considering I am often asked about the ‘rising’ antisemitism in France toward Jews, I am reminded that the word “Semite” refers to “any member of any of a number of peoples of ancient Middle East including the Akkadians, Assyrians, Arameans, Phoenicians, Hebrews (Jews), Arabs, and their descendants.” (Wikipedia.org) From what I see, the antisemitism is targeted to the Muslim community by the French and to the Jewish community by the Muslims. And the bottom line is that there’s too much hatred of each other for my tastes.
The hate is what has to stop…along with the terrorist activity. I can’t help but question which came first? Like the chicken or the egg, does the hate breed the violence or the violence breed the hate? We’re in a vicious cycle. How are we going to get off this merry go-round of nonsense?
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Thanks, everyone, for your kind words of concern and support. They are greatfully appreciated.