Attacks in Paris: Life Goes On, Despite the Tension

By David Vives
David Vives
David Vives
November 18, 2015 Updated: November 18, 2015

PARIS—The French capital awoke and started a new week after a weekend full of darkness. The conversations were all still imbued with the attacks of Friday night. “Life goes on, we must continue to live,” is a common refrain, also used in a tweet by the French president as well as by passers-by scribbling on walls or monuments.

Parisians would like to move on.

Generally, in any serious event, there is an ending, or at least we know what to expect. Over three days, we know 168 administrative searches were conducted, seven terrorists were killed, four were identified, and one fled.

However, the conclusion is conspicuous by its absence. Because these attacks primarily mark a confirmation, the logical continuation of what had happened in January, during the attacks of Charlie Hebdo.

Scarier Than 9-11

Americans Angie Spivey et Rick Myers in Paris, Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)
Americans Angie Spivey et Rick Myers in Paris, Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)

Americans Angie Spivey and Rick Myers hope to return home to Florida soon. The couple was living New York during 9-11, and Myers compared the Paris events to that dark day:

“This is very different from 9-11. In New York, it was a major attack, and then it was over. Here there are small attacks, in different locations. No one knows when it will happen again or when it will end. There are armed patrols everywhere now.”

Spivey was meant to be where one of the killings took place in Paris, but she was at home at the time of the assaults and escaped being caught up in the attack. Yet she agrees the feeling is more intense than in the aftermath of 9-11:

“To me, what’s going on here is even more frightening. Here, everyone is still very nervous. … Yesterday, we were at a restaurant, all of a sudden there was a wave of panic. Everyone rushed to the back of the restaurant, we thought it was a new attack.”

False alarms have been reported, which says a lot about the yet palpable tension under the Parisian sky.

Saturday night, the night after the attack, firecrackers went off at a wedding near the Marais historic district creating panic in the Place de la République, where many Parisians gathered to mourn near the main monument. In the district of Jaurès/Stalingrad, police also reported “collective hysteria” following a false alarm.

Paris Has Been Through it Before

As one Parisian, Lea Morrin, said, it’s not the first time the French are living through this kind of drama.

“The only positive side is this solidarity that emerged after Charlie Hebdo, and we see here, there are Japanese, Americans, so many people who come and gather, we don’t see that everyday,” said Morrin, who still hopes that security will be strengthened.

“We always think it happens to others, but not to us. After Charlie Hebdo, it was expected. It was the trigger, I think that after that, we were prepared for this eventuality. Where? How? We didn’t know, but we knew it could happen,” said Stacy Gaultier, expressing a similar sentiment.

‘This can’t prevent us from living!’

At 90 Charonne St., emotions are still very strong three days on. Everyone at the bar La Belle Équipe knows someone who saw what happened, and many knew someone who died.

La Belle Équipe bar at 90 Charonne St. in Paris, three days after a deadly terrorist attack on the bar, Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)
La Belle Équipe bar at 90 Charonne St. in Paris, three days after a deadly terrorist attack on the bar, Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)

Mohammed Elkrif, 60, struggles to recover from what he saw.

“In this bar, when there is a birthday, everyone comes and celebrates. This time, it was the boss Myriam’s birthday, there were so many people,” he said.

Elkrif had called the owner of the store next door at 7:30 p.m., asking if he was going to close up and come over.

“He answered: ‘I will, after the prayer.’ Then I called again, I asked him to close and come. He therefore closed his store at 9:30 p.m. At 9:37 p.m. there was gunfire,” recalled Elkrif.

That was is when the black Volkswagen Polo burst onto the scene. A man got out of the rear left door and sprayed bullets randomly on the people sitting there. Then he left, leaving death and chaos behind.

“A friend came and took a girl in his arms—it was Oda Yana, Myriam’s sister. I thought she was dead,” said Elkrif.

At the hospital later, they said she was injured. “But we don’t know where she is right now,” said Elkrif adding that he was still without news about others too. Unfortunately, news about Myriam was confirmed—she had died. 

On the window of La Belle Équipe, drilled with terrorist bullets, passers-by slipped roses and tulips. There are also children’s drawings left with bouquets of flowers.

“There are no words… We put ourselves in the families’ shoes, we put ourselves in the people shoes of those who were there, who were unable to do anything. It is unclear what’s going to happen in the coming days. We are going to live with fear. But can we live like this?! We lost a cousin, an Ivorian security guard who worked at the Bataclan,” said Elkrif.

Jihav Kraïma, at the grocery store Garden of Delights, won’t hide his annoyance. “We feel this is war. We must be vigilant, united, it can’t prevent us from living. We must live, always… People who do that have no religion, no culture, no roots, nothing. I am French of Tunisian origin, Muslim. These people, we do not recognize them, nobody recognizes them.”

Jihav Kraïma, primeur au Jardin des Délices, au 118 rue de Charonne. (David Vives/Epoch Times)
Jihav Kraïma, at the grocery store Garden of Delights (“Jardin des Délices”), at 118 Charonne St., Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)

‘What happens here happens in some countries everyday’

On the Place de la République, the usual noisy, congested Monday traffic didn’t distract the group of people gathered around the monument. Three concentric circles formed and gradually grew around the monument’s statues: one circle of candles and flowers, another of Parisians and visitors, the final one of cameras and journalists’ vehicles. At noon, the square was packed with people. After a minute of silence, there was applause, and everyone leaves. Traffic resumes.

Kitty Svoboda, a Swedish woman living in the capital, came to pay her respects. “I’m not really scared. But before I thought: ‘We live in Europe, this kind of thing can not happen to us.’ So we don’t really know how to react. It is a real shock. I came out the other day, you could see the fear in people’s eyes. It’s hard to describe, as a mixture of fear and sadness.”

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Kitty Svoboda, a Swedish woman living in the capital, Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)

“I think that before, people knew it was necessary to fight terrorism, but now we see it in all its horror. This will probably bring Europeans closer to each other. … Everyone feels ready to support France now, maybe it is a sign that shows us we must join forces to take care of each other,” added the young Swed.

“It’s true, it’s deplorable,” said Melas Israïm, who disagrees with the government policy. “They loudly proclaimed the state of emergency. It was not worth it, why keep people in fear? We must get out, live! Don’t create psychosis!”

Israïm has a different perspective from most, coming from a country where there’s violence like this is much more common: 

“I think it shakes a little bit Europe, and France… We are lucky to live well, quietly everyday, we take our coffee in the bar, we can enjoy our freedom. But what happened here happens in some countries every day. In Congo, it happens all the time, there are Congolese dying, there are militias and no stability. And when it happens here, it’s like being suddenly awakened … as if we woke up with total amnesia.”

Melas Israïm, Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)
Melas Israïm, Nov. 16, 2015. (David Vives/Epoch Times)

Bomb Scares and Late Subways

It’s Monday after the attacks, as police look down from the top of Montmartre funicular, things seem more normal. There are families with children playing, although still, not many people smile.

At the Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau subway stop, gendarmes, police and military meet, shake hands like football teams before the game. Some will come across each other again during the day.

In the late afternoon, two subway lines are completely blocked, and service on two other lines is disrupted due to bomb threats. “Our officials are working on a suspicious package at Oberkampf station,” says a voice  through the loudspeakers.

Parisians are accustomed to “parcel bomb” and late subways. Military patrols, equipped with Famas assault rifle are also part of the decor.

Emiliani Mario. (David Vives/Epoch Times)
Emiliani Mario. (David Vives/Epoch Times)

Emiliano Mario, a 90-year-old archaeologist at the Louvre society and former lecturer, said he does not recognize his Middle East, nor his France: “I have traveled between Syria and Iraq, worked all my life with Muslims. I never had any problems. So I am amazed, I can’t understand such things. Is there a political problem? Personally, I think it is a crime.”

“We live in a world that is no longer the ’50s,” he says regretfully. “France of the ’50s was wonderful. It’s all over, I know the difference. I lost one of my friends at the bar La Belle Équipe. He was having a coffee as I often do. I could have been with him, but I was at the Louvre, I have been so lucky,” he said, staring into the horizon.

Read original article in French here