On Monday evening (our time), we were Skyping with the Baguette-winner’s parents. Her Mum was surprised to hear that she had been at work all day. France is in a “state of emergency,” after all. The truth is, most of Paris is “business as usual.” People are at work, on the metro, in public spaces and in the bars and cafés.
To give you an idea of what the main attack sites look like, as well as the neighbourhood that this all took place in, I went for a little walk yesterday...
This is Rue Oberkampf, the centre of my French universe. We live here, and I only really know my way around Paris in terms of getting to and from this street. It’s Wednesday, and the street is busy. It’s always busy. During the day, it’s all delivery vehicles and shoppers; at night it’s a hotspot for the young and hip.
Just a little further down Rue Oberkampf, a shrine has sprung up. Until today, this corner was the closest people could get to Le Bataclan. Over the last few days, people have been congregating here, bringing flowers and candles, crying and, sometimes, singing.
Le Bataclan is on Boulevard Voltaire and, until today, this whole block had been closed to the public. It has now been opened to pedestrians (but not cars), and a new shrine has emerged directly facing the concert hall. I’m guessing that the two shrines will have met up by tomorrow.
I happened to be here at the same time as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, who were showing support to the victims of Friday’s attacks. They drew some attention from the people present, but most of the crowd were there to read the messages left at the shrine, and to leave flowers of their own.
Continuing down Boulevard Voltaire, we come to Place de la Republique. This has now become the centre of world journalism, it would seem. If you’ve watched BBC World or Sky News in the past five days, they’ve probably been reporting from here. In fact, I was watching this guy just before leaving the house:
When Charlie Hebdo was attacked, people gathered here every night for a week, and left all sorts of messages (and flowers and candles, of course). This time, the vigils have been a little smaller. Perhaps the sheer number of people killed on Friday night makes people feel less safe in large numbers. Perhaps it’s the idea that anyone is a target this time. People are out and about - the streets are busy - but they tend to want to keep moving. Or maybe I’m projecting, because I want to keep moving.
Parisians are still coming to this square, to pay respects and to mourn. Some come to meet (and interview) Lady Liberty herself:
There’s also a guy wearing all white, pseudo-breakdancing and rapping along to his headphones. He’s rapping in French so I’m not exactly sure what the message is, but he keeps saying “La Republique,” so he’s probably making a statement. Whatever the case, people are mostly ignoring him - today is not the day for such rambunctiousness.
There are also totally normal things happening here. Some kids skateboarding, some people just sitting in the sun, and a guy juggling (for some reason).
We’re heading north from here, towards Le Petit Cambodge. It’s on the other side Canal St Martin, which is a good opportunity to take a photo of two ducks. If it was Summer, the Canal would be busy as heck, but it’s a little cold at the moment.
Over the Canal and 40 seconds up the road is another shrine, set up outside Le Petit Cambodge and its neighbour Le Carillon.
Directly over the road is a hospital, where the waiting time to give blood is currently more than one week.
I wrote above that everything is “business as usual,” but individual behaviours are not exactly the same as before. People are jumpy; if you’ve seen the video of people fleeing Place de la Republique when they hear firecrackers go off, that’s obvious. You’ve probably heard that the attitude is defiant, that people are going out to prove that they are not afraid. Certainly, if you ask a Parisian what they plan to do, the answer will invariably be “we will party and spend time with friends, and show these people that they can’t beat us,” something along those lines.
I went out last night to meet a couple of friends for a drink. We were near the Pompidou Centre and Les Halles, major areas for tourists and locals, usually a bit of a nightmare thanks to the foot traffic. There were still huge numbers of people on the street, but these people were all leaving their offices and heading home. The bars and cafés were virtually empty (especially for central Paris). My friend (a Parisian) wanted us to keep walking until we found somewhere busy - he found the empty bars spooky. Maybe it’s an overreaction to say that the atmosphere has changed to that degree. It’s November, never high season for tourists, and it’s starting to get cold and dark. But the usual joie de vivre - a cliché, but only just - has been replaced with a truly deep sadness, and a growing sense of worry about what the future might look like.
It’s only Wednesday - as I write this, raids are still being carried out against supposed members of the terrorist cell from Friday night. It’s probably too much to ask that the city is exactly as it always was, so soon after. The bars and cafés will fill up again, maybe even by this weekend. And people will stop trying to convince themselves that they need to act Parisian, and will simply go back to being Parisian. After all, as John Oliver said on Friday night, this is the country of “Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloises cigarettes, Camus, Camembert, madeleines, macarons, Marcel Proust, and the fucking croquembouche!”