On Friday, November 13, I went for an early dinner with friends to a popular neighborhood bistro in the Marais area, a haven for bars, restaurants and clubs. I walked home at about 9:30, passing the cafes and bars bustling with people unwinding after the work week, drinking a beer or red wine with friends or colleagues -- a typical Friday night in the neighborhood.
About 15 minutes after I got home I received a phone call from a friend in the U.S. that would irrevocably change life, as I knew it in that moment. My friend told me reports on CNN were just in that a terrorist attack had hit Paris. I immediately turned on the TV, glued to it for hours on end as the horrific events unfolded. Reports came in of seven simultaneous bombings and shootings at various venues around the city. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near a stadium filled with approximately 80,000 spectators watching a rugby match, gunmen shot and killed numerous people in two restaurants within blocks of each other, and more gunmen held a few hundred people hostage at the beloved music venue Bataclan, where a heavy metal band played. By 2 a.m. that morning, 129 people had been killed, with the gunmen systematically killing over 100 people at the Bataclan, and 352 were injured. The city was in lockdown, the airports and the borders closed. President Hollande declared a state of emergency, the first time since 2005.
I went to bed with a heavy heart filled with fear and sadness. I lived in New York during 9/11, coincidentally about the same distance from the World Trade Center as I was from the events in Paris -- about a 20-minute walk from my house. Many of the same feelings came over me as with 9/11, witnessing horrible history repeating itself.
I woke up early the next morning after not much sleep and, looking out the window, things seemed calm. I turned on the TV with much trepidation, holding my breath that no other incidents happened during the time I slept. The incidents from the night before seemed to have ended and thankfully no new incidents were reported.
Not knowing what to do or where to go that day, I stayed home for hours on end. Finally I was getting cabin fever and also needed to buy some food, so I ventured outside not knowing what to expect. The street I live on is a main artery of the Marais, lined with dozens of food shops. The mood was somber and the shops were more crowded that usual, as it looked like people were stocking up on food so they could safely stay at home.
Fear, defeat, and sadness overcame me in those two days, but anger and defiance eventually surfaced. I wasn’t going to let the people who committed these horrible acts ruin our city and way of life, and Paris would stand strong and do what’s necessary to stop them. If we let them win and don’t stand for our freedom, things will never be right again in France.
I am a private tour guide and I was worried if people would still want to come to Paris because they think it wouldn’t be safe. Rick Steves wrote a spot on response to the attacks concerning travel. He said, “In 2004, Madrid suffered a terrorist bombing in its Metro, which killed 191 and injured 1,800. In 2005, London suffered a similar terrorist bombing in its Tube system, killing 52 and injuring 700. These societies tightened their security, got the bad guys, and carried on. Paris will, too.”
On Sunday, with a strong will to continue my everyday life as best as I could under the circumstances, I made plans to meet a friend for lunch. It was an unusually sunny and warm day for the time of the year, and I was meeting my friend on rue Montorgueil, a street usually packed with cafes and food shops. Much like myself, many Parisians were flocking the streets, shocked and still scared but resilient and defiant to get back to life as usual on a Sunday afternoon. Once again people were dining, laughing, bicycling, carousing, eating, drinking, smoking, and playing with their children.
Later that afternoon I met friends for a drink in the Marais and there was hardly a table available to accommodate us, another instance of Parisians stubbornly refusing to let terrorism infringe on their way of life envied by the world. That's another reason I love calling Paris my home.