Thursday, November 19th, 2015
Reality check Tuesday evening. I came out of the grocery store to see soldiers in fatigues, carrying machine guns, walking down my street, right in front of my building. Were they going home after a day guarding our local Jewish school or is this now their regular beat? I’m glad they’re here, but I feel like I’m in a war movie.
Wednesday morning I woke up to a message from my friend Bonnie who lives in Saint Denis, just over the beltway (Périphérique) north of Paris. She said there was a shoot-out going on but didn’t know if it was a new attack? The Metro was closed and the the police told everyone to stay indoors.
My son went off to school on foot like every morning and I told my husband something was going on and the Metro might not be running. I turned on the TV news and saw the army of journalists filming the SWAT teams on site right near the centuries-old Basilica where all the French kings were buried until looters desecrated their tombs during the Revolution.
A siege was underway in the rue de la République there. Residents had heard at least one explosion and exchanges of gunfire, ambulances were lined up, it was rumored that policemen had been wounded. I can’t imagine how the “forces of order” (as they say in French) managed to do anything with all the journalists and rubbernecks filming with their phones. Weird.
The French TV channel kept showing the same interview over and over: a young woman in a hijab with a nose piercing kept saying she was in the toilet with her baby and heard explosions and gunfire on the floor above her before she managed to leave the building.
News commentators said a female suicide bomber had blown herself up, other suspects had been shot or arrested, but no one would know who they were until forensics could do DNA analysis because terrorists not only shave off their beards and cut their hair short but even have plastic surgery to completely alter their appearance and avoid being recognized.
I tried to stay off social media but failed. A friend posted two incredible videos of French Muslims (no idea where he found them!)– a young woman of Senegalese origin and a young man who didn’t say where his parents came from. Both were yelling at the terrorists and criticizing the Muslim community for not cleaning up its act! I had never seen anything like it before. It was riveting: finally hearing from people who know both cultures and communities, telling the terrorists to “stop breaking our balls, if you don’t like France, go live in Afghanistan or join the Algerian army and see if you like it, otherwise if you stay in France and like being greeted as French when you travel, having your kids in good schools, enjoying the protection of the French judicial system, collecting welfare and unemployment, then pay your taxes and stop complaining!” And much much more… If any non-Muslim said half of what these two did, they would be pilloried by the French media. Both films were watched by thousands of people and got tons of “likes.”
In disbelief, I showed the videos to my husband and son but when I wanted to get my best friend’s opinion, the videos had disappeared! Did the speakers realize they’d put themselves in danger and take the videos down? If so, a sad statement about freedom of speech.
Heart rending pictures of a French policeman weeping on his comrade’s shoulder after seeing the carnage on Friday night, of refugees and bombing victims… All over the world, people singing the Marseillaise and waving the French flag! Monuments lit up in blue, white, and red, Charlie Hebdo cover showing a bullet-riddled French reveler saying “We don’t care, we have champagne!” Funny comments and posts ridiculing Daesh for trying to compete with macaroons, Sartre, Proust, Gauloises, etc… much needed comic relief between tears….
Late afternoon, my son came home from school and his tutor arrived to help with homework. A young French woman in her late twenties, she has a Masters in psychology and recently got a job as a middle school counselor. She was completely drained after leading workshops where kids could vent after the events of the weekend, with no psychological support for herself or the other adults. She said to Ivan, “Not all the kids are lucky enough to have parents who supervise what they watch on TV. These kids have seen things they shouldn’t have seen and they’re very scared.” She had never said anything to me about this before, so I was surprised. I’m going to keep putting my foot down. It’s been a constant struggle, but it’s worth it (I hope).
Sometime during the day I read the bios of the terrorists and was disgusted. They can’t even use difficult childhoods as an excuse. The main guy’s father owned a clothing store and a house in Brussels, he sent his son to a good school, nothing worked. I really felt sorry for the family. Their life was ruined.
The Washington Post reported that the ringleader from Belgium had been killed but the New York Times said it wasn’t confirmed. Same with French media. There was no way to know.
In the evening I pulled up a chair at one of our local cafés on a busy intersection and had a glass of wine, watching the crowds rushing by in a blur. It felt fantastic, even if I kept looking around just in case. I hadn’t been inspired to take any pictures for a while, much less post them, but my glass of white wine on the red café table looked like an oasis of joie de vivre, symbolizing everything we can do here, all the possibilities… so I immortalized it under the heading “My act of defiance.” You could also call it “My act of faith.”
Today the terrorist mastermind’s death was confirmed. I want to forget his face but it pops up everywhere.
Turning off social media.
To be continued, Love, xxx, Aliss