Shaken, not Stirred

girl with candle

©Lisa Anselmo

It’s been one week since terrorists shook up our world in Paris, hitting the heart of the popular district I call home. I’ve tried several times to write, but cohesive thoughts would not come. All I could hear was screaming in my head.

Not here. Not in my Paris.

After my mother died, Paris saved me. It was the one place that seemed to set me to right, where the heaviness of the world didn’t press down on me. Where I felt truly free. And even when it was bad, like the leak that damaged my apartment, it was still good.

A touching tribute outside Cosa Nostra asks, "Why?" Bullet holes are still evident on the facade of the building. ©Lisa Anselmo

A touching tribute outside Cosa Nostra asks, “Why?” Bullet holes are still evident on the facade of the building. ©Lisa Anselmo

Everything changed Friday: Sitting at a café terrace—a beloved pastime—will never have the same ease again; the sound of that classic European two-tone siren will never amuse me again; shopping in a crowded street market will never feel free again. I’d been through this on 9/11 in New York; I never wanted that to come here.

It had been a mild Friday night for November in Paris; I’d toyed with finding a dinner mate and hitting a local place. I’d walked past Le Petit Cambodge earlier in the day, but ruled it out because there is always a line on weekends. In the end, I decided to stay in and write, but not before I took a walk in the neighborhood, past the Bataclan where people were lining up for the concert. That was a little before 8:00p.m.

Shootings near Republique, a text came from a friend who lives close by. Then another text: Looks more like Goncourt. Another: Just heard explosions.

The day after the attacks, a man sits solemn in a café. ©Lisa Anselmo

The day after the attacks, a man sits solemn in a café. ©Lisa Anselmo

We watched the reports on France 24, connected by our phones, each of us too terrified to move from our homes. It was happening all around us, on every side. Le Petit Cambodge, where I had just been earlier, and where I’d eaten lunch with my sister a few months before, had been a target. La Belle Equipe, just up the street from my apartment, also hit. The latest news blurb: Terrorists had taken the Bataclan.

My mind flashed on the faces I’d scanned as I walked by the theater an hour earlier. What of them?

In the days that followed, news trickled in of those who’d lost their lives. In a tight community like ours, it’s impossible not to know someone connected to a victim, especially with so many ordinary, local hangouts attacked. The shooting at La Belle Equipe, where 19 died, affected more than one café. Many of the victims—some reports say as many as 11—worked at or were regulars of the nearby Café des Anges. They were celebrating a friend’s birthday. These were people we saw every day, our neighbors. Beautiful, young, and full of life.

My neighborhood, my favorite haunts. It could have been me. It was just dumb luck that it wasn’t.

It’s the personal nature of these attacks that makes us so uneasy, so angry. The killers came right up to our faces, where we eat, play, live. How do you carry on after something like that? How does a city, where the sidewalk café is an integral part of life, recover?

The growing memorial at Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

The growing memorial at Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

I’m still rattled and impotent, but Parisians, who drove out the Nazis 70 years ago, started fighting to reclaim their city almost immediately after the attacks. They took to their cafés, sitting on the terraces, enjoying their lives as usual. I thought it was denial, and maybe in part it was, but I’m learning it’s also something else, something very different—and very Parisian: résistance. Life will go on. It must go on.

Cafes packed with Parisians just a day after the attack. ©Lisa Anselmo

Cafes packed with Parisians just a day after the attack. ©Lisa Anselmo

Last night, I found myself in the last place I’d have thought so soon after the attacks: a theatre watching the new James Bond film. A friend had wanted to go, but I worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the gun violence. “Come on,” she cajoled. “Let’s go see the good guys beat up the bad guys.” We thought the theatre would be empty, but found ourselves among a few hundred other Parisians needing the same release—wanting to spend a couple hours in a world where guns were safely tucked away in a fantasy world, where we could walk around inside the head of a fearless hero, someone who could make it all better, who could vindicate us.

Parisians escape to the movies. Nearly a packed house at the new James Bond film.

Parisians escape to the movies. Nearly a packed house at the new James Bond film.

One week later to the minute, 9:20 p.m. Paris time to be exact, Parisians were out en masse in defiance of the fear mongers. “Make noise and light” was the call to arms on social media, with “#21h20” to mark the time. Despite the cold and rain, they came to Place de la Republique, gathered around the statue of Marianne, chanting, “Bleu! Blanc! Rouge!”—for the colors of the French flag. About one hundred formed a human chain, holding hands around the square. Some people gave away free hugs, others brought boom boxes and inspired everyone to dance. Still others, quietly lit candles for those who could not join this party, this celebration of life. Unlike a week ago, I was outside, in the middle of it all, and in spite of my fear and grief, was dancing in the city I loved.

People giving out free hugs, or calins, at Place de la Republique. trust me, I hugged them all. Wouldn't you? Photo: Patty Sadauskas, Paris on a Dime

People giving out free hugs, or calins, at Place de la Republique. Trust me, I hugged them all. Wouldn’t you? Photo: Patty Sadauskas, Paris on a Dime

Though not fully healed, I am not as broken as before. And though my dream vision of Paris is shattered, what remains is a more real picture of my deeper commitment to being here.

When a friend messaged me on Facebook, asking how I was holding up, I thought of James Bond, standing tough and still impeccably elegant after a tussle with the bad guys. Like Paris. “I’m shaken,” I smirked as I typed, “but not stirred.”

Scenes of a city finding a way though loss, hate and fear:

"Not one bit afraid" the banner says. Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

“Not one bit afraid” the banner says. Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

Kill one of us...kill 100 of us...kill 65 million—you can never kill the soul of France. Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

Kill one of us…kill 100 of us…kill 65 million—you can never kill the soul of France. Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

Tokens are Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

Tokens at Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

A woman places a candle at the memorial at Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

A woman places a candle at the memorial at Place de la Republique. ©Lisa Anselmo

©Lisa Anselmo

“Farewell, Christophe(r). We love you.” ©Lisa Anselmo

Make Noise and Light Movement in Place de la Republique. These guys got everyone dancing. Photo: Patty Sadauskas

Make Noise and Light Movement in Place de la Republique. These guys got everyone dancing. Photo: Patty Sadauskas

Place de la Republique. People applauded for one minute in solidarity. Photo: Patty Sadauskas, Paris on a Dime

Place de la Republique. People applauded for one minute in solidarity. Photo: Patty Sadauskas, Paris on a Dime

That's me, laughing and snapping photos of the dancing crowd. A week before, I never thought I'd feel like smiling or dancing again. Photo: Patty Sadauskas

That’s me, laughing and snapping photos of the dancing crowd. A week before, I never thought I’d feel like smiling or dancing again. Photo: Patty Sadauskas

Click here to read my New York magazine article about Parisian resilience and the “Je Suis en Terrasse” movement.

22 responses to “Shaken, not Stirred

  1. Beautiful thoughts, Lisa. My heart aches for Paris. You captured so much of what I am feeling as well. I am in the states now, but had just returned from this wonderful city. The healing will continue…

    With love,
    Gretchen

  2. I could never be as eloquent as you, my friend but you echoed my heart – I’m not sure if you saw I was actually on my way to Newark to fly out to Paris that evening as everything unfolded. Was looking forward to seeing Roniece and other friends in Paris, as well as pals from Rouen. I couldn’t bring myself to fly out the next evening but will be back in a couple of months – hope I get to see you if you are still there – sending a big hug across the miles –

    • Yes, I heard. Do come, Nancy. Do not fear. Many of my friends have come and were happy to be here at this time. One or two came especially. Paris awaits its friends.

    • Please do. The normalness is just as eerie to me. When I was hysterical everyone was going about their lives. But it was weird in the Monoprix today. People were walking around like zombies, stocking up on canned goods and huge stores of food. I was thinking that it seems it’s finally hitting them, and meanwhile I, who was a mess early on, am getting stronger. I just wanted to walk around the store hugging everyone. But yeah, it’s fairly normal compared to the press’s POV.

  3. Like you, I am a New Yorker and 9/11 hit me hard. Apart from the psychological and physical damage to my city, my husband’s firm lost over 200 people that day.

    Less than 2 weeks later, we were all on a plane to attend a family event in Chicago. In December 2001, my best friend got married at City Hall and I was there from Los Angeles for the ceremony. Afterwards, we walked over to the site where the rubble was still smoking in the rain and past St. Paul’s with the tributes woven around and through the church’s fences.

    I’ve been back several times, most recently to the 9/11 Museum in September 2014.

    New York endures; Paris will, as well. Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world. We had been planning a trip there in the spring. The events of last week have done nothing to change those plans.

    Allons enfants de la Patrie!

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, was on a plane two weeks after 9/11 for my aunt’s funeral. And two weeks after that, on a plane to Rome for a wedding. This is life. It will go on. I am very happy you will not change your plans for Paris in spring. We cannot let fear control us.

  4. Bonjour Lisa…so glad you are safe. Paris of course will endure..in a city where the bullet holes from WWII are still visable , the horror of november 13 will never be forgotton but life will go on..it has to. What’s the alternative?
    In September I went specifically to Place de la Republique to be where the Charlie Hebdo crowds were and I walked around the neighbourhood. So untouristy and so real Paris and that is exactly why they chose those spots…they wanted to strike at the real Paris..

    Nothing makes any sense but all you can do is go on, live your life..I will return to Paris many times I hope. Keep the faith. Keep doing the normal things, lining up at monoprix, sitting on a terrace, shopping in the grand magazins…just walking around. Vive la France.

  5. Lisa, thank you for your close up view of how people are coping. La resistance. I love it. Bless them, bless you. We still feel it. Happy to learn how quickly people took back to their streets, cafes and theatres. NYC was much slower to move again.

  6. Lisa, I had no idea you lived so close to all this. Wow. I heard via Facebook (David Leibovitz) and followed online all that evening – I have never been to this area but was planning to visit Le Petit Cambodge next year thanks to David’s recommendation. Heartening to hear of JeSuisEnTerrasse and I must say I’m not surprised, French people are more courageous than most folks I know. Off to read your article now. See you in February! Sara

  7. Pingback: Peace in Provence | My (Parttime) Paris Life·

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