After staying inside for the past couple days, I started to get the sense that it wasn’t really real. That it must be happening somewhere else, somewhere far away that could only reach us from a news station, or that it was just a dream.
Today I left my apartment and to take the metro to a stop near Bastille and walk to 92 Rue de Charonne. A huge crowd surrounds La Belle Equipe, a bar and café, and now the site of a terrorist attack. Flowers, candles, signs and notes are placed on the sidewalk while reporters take pictures and film. I join them.
Dozens of people walk up to the memorial to light candles, leave flowers and bouquets, and say prayers. There are notes of outrage, confusion and upset, but mostly notes of love. There is a lot of love. People embrace and cry, many stand by themselves in silence. I take as many pictures as I can without disturbing anyone’s personal space and back away from the crowd to look at the rest of the block. Cars and bikes move along the road to continue their days as usual, all the other streets appear as normal as ever. However on the adjacent storefront window, I spot two large holes in the glass, epicenters of spiderweb-like cracks whose glassy fibers create tangible evidence of what happened here two nights ago.
It’s real for me now. Someone who wanted those bullet holes to be more than empty reminders of tragedy put a rose in the broken glass, instead making it look like the flower caused the rupture in the window. In the other one, someone hung a little sign saying “Tous Ensemble” – all together.
Next I walk over to the Bataclan, which isn’t easy. After stopping for a while to watch a crowd with white roses walk to La Belle Equipe, I find the concert hall, just a 15 minute walk from the café. The entire block is taped off and guarded by police and military personnel while news teams, both local and international, crowd the street in front of the tape. Trying to see over everyone, I watch a small group of people being escorted from behind the barrier as they hold flowers and candles. They begin a small memorial on their side. I can only imagine why they are given special permission behind police blockades.
After visiting both memorials, I have had enough. I walk back into the metro to go home and find myself sitting next to a beautiful young woman with dark hair. She is crying. But she smiles at me when I sit and I smile back. She has a brief phone conversation, looks at the picture of a baby boy on her lock screen, and we sit in silence while she quietly sniffles and stares at the couple across from us holding hands while I stare at her small feet. I have the urge to place my hand on her arm. Before I can she gets up at the next stop, presses the button, and walks out the door.
Pray for Paris. Vive la France.