In the confusion and horror of Paris in shock, the details stay with you. In the bleary early Saturday morning, behind the police barriers, a lone tour bus was still parked on Boulevard Voltaire in front of the Bataclan concert hall, where the Eagles of Death Metal gig had been bloodily interrupted by Daesh terrorists the night before. It was impossible not to notice how the band’s black-painted bus strangely matched the half-dozen hearses maneuvering around it to carry away bodies still lying in the concert hall by the dozen; a surreal ballet of mourning, watched mainly by cops and young soldiers, as Parisians had been advised to stay home.
Another image: a shaky telephone video of soccer fans spontaneously singing “La Marseillaise” while being evacuated from the Stade de France in north Paris, after three suicide bombers detonated themselves outside the France-Germany game in the course of the coordinated attacks. French soccer, and the Stade de France, have a complicated history with “La Marseillaise”: Fourteen years ago, then-prime minister Lionel Jospin walked out of a France-Algeria game after the “Marseillaise” was booed by French-born supporters of the Algerian team. More than once, the French national team was blamed because our players would not even pretend to mouth the national anthem being played before a game. But this time it was the public themselves, in a moment of uncertainty and fear, who reacted with the unerring Résistance instinct.
Our city has been attacked: For the first time, we have been hit by indiscriminate terrorism, not targeted at journalists, soldiers, or Jews. This makes it somehow more intimate: Our reaction is not just horror, but the feeling that this is personal, our moment of truth.
I first saw a tweet announcing “a shootout” in a Paris restaurant around 10 p.m.—something that could very well have happened for a dozen reasons on a booze-fueled Friday night—and when I heard it was in the area near Bastille where I’d done a series of broadcasts at the time of the Charlie Hebdo killings, something impelled me to turn on France Info radio news. The very first sentence I heard was “We mustn’t yield to psychosis; this may not be terrorism.” By that time there were tweets on another shootout in the same neighborhood, and “explosions” near the Stade de France, in a different district. I remembered Charlie. I no longer believed in coincidences.
The stories and reports trickled out: on the radio, on cable news, on Twitter. Mobile networks overloaded; but Parisians became ingenious. Someone set up a special “event” page on French Facebook, where you could “check in” and tick an “I’m safe” box; notice of it automatically went to all your friends, as the news worsened throughout the night.
We Parisians saw the morning on Saturday dizzy with shock and lack of sleep, obsessively checking on the ever-mounting body count from the bloodiest attacks since the liberation. What soon became evident was the immense spirit of solidarity.
There was a disconnect between the hackneyed, emotional introductions and questions from reporters and the calmness of survivors describing scenes of war and carnage. “Terrified Clarisse is trembling still,” one began; but Clarisse, a young woman whose flat is located just above the Petit Cambodge restaurant, the scene of one of the shootouts, was utterly composed. “We realized the bangs outside came from guns. We knew Charlie’s offices were nearby; it’s only been 10 months. I turned off all the lights; then I crawled to the window to look outside; and I saw this young man who’d been shot and was dead.”
Laura, another young woman, described in a ban-lieues accent how, driving with three mates for a Friday evening of fun, they had crossed the path of one of the terrorists’ cars. “You must have felt terrified?” she was prompted. “I saw his face; I saw his gun. They started shooting at my car; later we found the body [of the car] was riddled with bullets and we’d all been incredibly lucky not to be hit. I revved it and we escaped; but now I think instead of fleeing we should have crashed bang into their car.”
Bastille is Victor Hugo’s Paris: a lively area now being gentrified—all the best new restaurants seem to open around here—but still pretty young and diverse.