The plan on Wednesday January 7th was to finish and send out my Secrets of Paris newsletter. The day didn’t go quite as planned. Following are images, video, and commentary of the terrible events that took place in Paris, including photos from Sunday’s Unity Rally.
> Also read: Understanding Charlie Hebdo and French Secularism (October 2020)
In the morning it was so foggy I could barely see the buildings across the street from my window, but I needed to go for a run so I texted Bryan and asked if he was game. We met at the Place de la Bastille at 9:30am (hey, we’re on Paris time) and took the Promenade Plantée to the Bois de Vincennes, the Central Park style green space east of Paris. After 10k my knee decided I was done, but Bryan wanted to get another two miles in, so I told him to do a lap around the lake while I walked it and when we met up we’d call it a day and head to the metro. We took a selfie for Instagram and he jogged off into the fog.
I ended up doing an entire 1.5km lap around the lake with no Bryan in sight. It seemed to be getting colder, and my hands were getting numb. Bryan didn’t have his phone on him, and although I could occasionally spot runners emerging from the fog as they rounded the lake, he was nowhere to be seen. We’ve done this before (tried to meet up and ended up missing each other), so I finally headed to the metro at 10:45am to get home and thaw out. Happily he made it home okay, too (we still have no idea how we missed each other).
After a hot shower and lunch, it was almost noon and I knew that if I wanted to finish the newsletter that day that I’d need to turn off email, Facebook and Twitter. I went “offline” just before 1pm. At 3:45pm one of the messenger apps on my phone beeped. It was a close friend in Seattle, “Just reading about the attack on the newspaper.” I immediately turned on France Infos news radio station, and the first thing I heard was that two of my favorite satirical cartoonists, Cabu and Wolinski, had been shot dead at Charlie Hebdo’s offices.
By now you all know the rest of the story. And it’s still ongoing as I write this two days later, with the presumed murderers holed up in a warehouse with a hostage, and another hostage situation in a Kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes (not far from where we were running Wednesday before), presumably the same shooter who killed a policewoman yesterday morning in Montrouge, the suburb directly south of Paris.
So the newsletter was put on hold as I watched the news, called friends, assured family back home I was fine. A group of my neighbors went to the vigil at Place de la République on Wednesday night, where thousands spontaneously gathered. The phrase “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) appeared instantly online, on signs, in windows, in tribute cartoons in Paris and around the world. Yesterday was declared a day of national mourning, with a minute of silence at noon to be observed everywhere, including the Paris metro.
French leaders of every party (except the Front National, which was not invited after blaming the Left for “allowing” the attack to happen) have called for everyone to join a Marche Républicaine (Unity Rally) in Paris on Sunday at 3pm from Place de la République to Nation. Seeing the support and solidarity from around the world has been comforting. The mood in Paris remains somber; people are saddened by the deaths and want to be respectful of those who were killed and the survivors. But they are also angry, and determined not to let it crush their spirit. They believe very strongly in the right to free press (and the right for people to choose not to read it if they find it offensive).
In fact, Charlie Hebdo has never been a wildly popular publication, rarely printing over 30,000 copies for each issue, even after they were fire bombed by offended extremists in 2011. Just last week I had a tour with a family whose 9-year-old daughter asked her mother, “What’s that?”, pointing to a Charlie Hebdo at a newsstand, pictured here on the left, with the title “The True History of Baby Jesus”. I shrugged in apology to the mother and quickly distracted the daughter by guiding her into the nearest chocolate shop. Not many people outside France really knew Charlie Hebdo before this. But now these idiot gunmen have made it a worldwide, household name. Next Wednesday they will be printing one million copies of a special edition by the survivors of the staff.
The French also seem to be going out of their way to avoid blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few wackos, despite a few scattered “revenge” attacks that have already occurred around the country (and the call for a referendum to bring back the dealth penalty by Marine Le Pen…and she wonders why no one has invited her to the march). The “popularity” of the Front National seems as blown out of proportion as their fear-mongering fantasy that Islamic fundamentalists will enact Sharia Law in France. Let’s hope that the French will vote for reason and rationality in the upcoming elections, and not let themselves be terrorized into restricting human rights and dignity of the innocent out of a thirst for vengeance.
For yesterday’s national day of mourning I went to Notre Dame Cathedral to stand with hundreds of others in silence at noon as the bells rang in memory of the victims. For 20 minutes we stood in the rain and cold wind, listening to the sad, slow tolling of the 13-ton bell Emmanuel. Dating back to the 17th century, it’s the only bell that survived the French Revolution, and is only rung for special Catholic holidays and solemn events such as State funerals and the end of WWI and WWII.
This cathedral has been witness to many traumatic and horrific events taking place in Paris over the past 860 years, and I couldn’t help but think that we were standing just a few hundred feet from the St-Michel station that was bombed by terrorists in summer of 1995, a few weeks before I first arrived in Paris as a student. I remember how all of the public trash cans were sealed and replaced with the plastic bags as part of the “Vigipirate” safety measures enacted throughout the city that we still see today. There were three more bombings that fall, including one on my line at Maison Blanche, but the perpetrators were eventually captured and life went on. Only the occasional sighting of the military police patrolling heavily touristed areas reminding us of the constant vigilance. It would be easy to get depressed about the current situation, to fear the worst for France’s future. But the monumental cathedral at the heart of the city, even to those who are not Catholic, is a visual reminder that Paris has endured much darker moments in its history, some that seemed impossible to overcome. I don’t doubt there will be more of these difficult times, but I have faith that Paris — and the French Republic — will survive, as it has for over two millennia.
For all their faults, the French people are stronger than you think. They ARE Charlie: not always popular, sometimes even offensive, but unwilling to compromise their values or give up their liberty even when faced with threats or attacks. Now if they can just all agree on what that means in practice…à suivre.
Some recommended articles (suggestions welcome):
Update: Friday, January 9, 2015
“Is Paris safe?”
As for whether it’s safe to visit Paris…I’ll be staying in for the weekend (my knees are thanking me in advance), waiting for the worst to blow over. After that, I presume Paris will be back to “normal”, with the same risks and dangers that any world capital faces today. Tourists were not the target of these attacks, so don’t let these idiots cower you into changing your travel plans.
Update: Saturday, January 10, 2015
So today on Twitter there are countless new hashtags trending, including #jesuisjuif (I’m Jewish), #jesuismusulman (I’m Muslim), #jesuispolicier (I’m a police officer)…no one wants to seem like they’re being insensitive or racist or preferring one religion over another so they’re trying to cram all of the above along with #IamChristian/Atheist/French/Human, etc all in 140 characters.
I think the whole point was NOT to single out any particular religion or identity. For me, #jesuischarlie represents everyone who believes in liberty and free speech (even when we don’t agree). When I say #jesuischarlie, I’m standing by EVERYONE who was killed, regardless of their religious beliefs, professions, and every other distinction people are now trying to make.
Many Muslims who are deeply offended by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons but who DON’T CONDONE TERRORISM have been tweeting #jenesuispascharlie mais #jenesuispasterroriste (I’m not Charlie, but I’m not a terrorist). I would probably feel the same way if it had been the writer Houellebecq who was killed instead of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists (he was on their cover Wednesday). I personally find him and everything he writes about repulsive and would never claim #jesuisHouellebecq. But I still don’t think it’s okay to kill him. A civilized society shuns and speaks out against what we don’t like. Murdering people for their beliefs is for the mentally disturbed, no matter what ideological banner their craziness flies under.
Update: Sunday, January 11, 2015
A few photos I took at today’s Marche Républicaine (Unity Rally) in Paris. Click to see full-size images.
> Also read: Understanding Charlie Hebdo and French Secularism (October 2020)