Paris, Last Night

Red House on Nov 13, 2015 by ExpatEdna.com

Red House last night, shortly before curfew was announced

“There’s been a shooting.”

My friend Joe read the news from his phone. We were gathered at his bar, spending a Friday evening as we usually do: at Red House, my favorite bar in Paris, located in the 11eme.

I didn’t think much of it. We were supposedly two miles away from the scene, and assumed it was a small isolated incident.

I checked the BBC report — just 5 minutes old — and posted it to Facebook for friends to be aware, and returned to my drink. I didn’t expect that what was unfolding would become international headlines for hours to come.

Paris Attacks first report on BBC

The original headline, when little was known

We weren’t even supposed to be out last night, but had made a last-minute decision to bike over to the 11eme for a nightcap. One drink turned into three; it was during that third one we heard the developing news.

“Looks like we’re staying here,” I quipped. Cars started filing down the usually empty one-way road, along with the information that police had blocked off the surrounding roads.

Cell service went down and we could hear sirens blaring in all directions.

Joe (the bartender, not my boyfriend) threw on a jacket and walked out, trying to figure out what was happening. We were only 480 meters away from La Belle Equipe on rue Charonne.

At the time I didn’t know we were so close to the shootings, and in hindsight I’m very glad for that — we were freaked out enough as it was.

A short while later Joe returned, stopping into bars and restaurants along the way back to Red House, informing people of the situation (unless you were on your phone, most people had no idea anything was going on). My boyfriend stood outside, watching from the street.

“Come inside, please,” I went out and gently tugged his arm.

“I’m waiting for Joe,” he replied with a smile, unworried.

I was so relieved when both Joes walked back through the door.

Paris Attacks Snapchat- ExpatEdna.com

One of the many messages I received on Snapchat

My phone was blowing up with friends checking in — Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat (so many from Snapchat!) — I messaged each one back, reassuring them I was safe, but my hands were shaking: I was secretly terrified.

What if someone ran into this bar? What if every scary action movie scene I’d ever seen went down in real life? The scenarios ran through my head, too many Liam Neeson movies colliding in my imagination.

“Do me a favor,” Joe (my boyfriend, not the bartender) said as he sat down. “If anything happens, get behind the bar.” Being ex-military he was calm, collected, and had already mentally planned for ‘what-ifs’, while also making jokes and keeping the mood light. His sense of humor kept my mind from wandering too far.

Paris Attacks Snapchat filters - ExpatEdna.com

Snapchat even got involved with Breaking News filters

The news started rolling in, the original BBC article getting longer with each refresh: one shooting turned into another, turned into a bombing, turned into a hostage situation. I thought of my German friend Kat, who had posted a photo earlier that evening from the stands at Stade de France.

The French were impressively nonchalant. Some girls behind me ordered eight shots of tequila; others began smoking in the bar (usually illegal; smoking has been banned indoors since 2007).

I wasn’t sure if I admired their calm or was annoyed at their nonchalance.

The rest of us were on our phones, checking Twitter every ten seconds. The body count was rising and there was so much confusion. We heard people we being shot in the theatre, one by one. We heard people were being released, one by one.

An Irish bartender had a friend texting from inside Bataclan — she said no, no one was being released. He was understandably tense, glued to his phone. “Fuck me. The photographs. Just bodies in the street.”

Paris Attacks twitter

Word came of a curfew at midnight, the first since 1961; the national borders were being closed, the Paris metro shut down. By 1:30 the bar had cleared out; we stuck around till 3 am, staying with the Red House guys as they closed the bar — and partly because I wanted to make sure we were definitely, definitely safe to go home.

My boyfriend was all for riding a Velib back to the apartment, but I was relieved when a green taxi crossed our paths outside the bar. We were finally home just shy of 4 am.

Contrary to Twitter, not all taxi drivers were offering free rides — but 15 euros was worth it for the peace of mind.

Paris Attacks Safety Check on Facebook - ExpatEdna.com

***

Today has been a day spent mostly in bed. One bar cancelled their anniversary party, with the owners saying they were too sad to celebrate at this time. Our friends at Red House, Pas de Loup, and Glass decided to still open tonight, to offer a place to gather, for community.

This has been very close to home — while I no longer hold a residency permit, I consider Paris home, especially around the 11eme. Joe and I had just walked along that section of rue Charonne the day before, making note of a hot pot place that looked promising. Le Petit Cambodge, another shooting site, is where I took Kate the last time I saw her in Paris.

And of course, we’re at Red House at least a couple times a week — I even used the bar and its 75011 zip code as my return address when I was leaving Paris and had to mail belongings back to the US.

Physically, everyone I know is safe. Mentally and emotionally, I can’t say the same.

The terrorists behind this didn’t target the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the Champs-Elysees (which, last night, was celebrating the official opening of their Christmas market). They attacked those who were eating dinner, drinking on the terrasse, listening to live music, watching their team play.

They attacked daily life in Paris and I wish I could say I was one of those carrying on with my day today, like my friends who still went to yoga, shopped at the market, ran their bars. I stayed indoors, not even venturing outside to see if the marché was open.

The fear I felt last night — the hand-shaking, terrifying fear that comes from uncertainty of situation or safety — was new to me. While it lasted briefly, there are places in the world where this happens frequently, has become a norm.

So as you all change your profile photos to the tricolor, please also think of Beirut and Baghdad, of Syria and the ongoing crises around the world. We in France and the West are lucky that this is not our day-to-day reality.

A photo posted by Joann Sfar (@joannsfar) on

This image by French comic artist Joann Sfar really resonated with me today. Thank you to everyone who has reached out in concern. Tomorrow I hope to return to the 11eme and celebrate life and Paris with music, with kisses, with Champagne, with joy.

I hope you do the same.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this, Edna. It’s not easy for outsiders to understand what goes on in these situations. Even for those of us who claim to always be aware of our surroundings while traveling or just living life in a big city, there’s no way to prepare for such events. I’m happy to know you and Joe are safe.

  2. I can’t even begin to imagine… Couldn’t stop thinking of you last night and am glad you and Joe are okay. Tonight, champagne and joy for you and France. We’re taking my mother out for her birthday dinner. It’s been awhile since she’s felt like being social. This should be interesting. :)

  3. Beautifully written, Edna. When I heard the news I thought of my friends that live in Paris, and of you. Thankfully, there was word quite quickly that said you were all okay, but my cousin had to wait for the whole day to hear word from her friends in Paris. It is unsettling to come face-to-face with how quickly it can all be taken away.

    The outpouring of solidarity with Paris on social media has been truly inspiring, but I wish there could be equal compassion shown for the refugee crisis, because as you say;”While it lasted briefly, there are places in the world where this happens frequently, has become a norm” – this is particularly true, there are so many terrible things that happen in our world and there is too much of a tendency to focus only on the issues that could have affected us. e.g. ‘It could have been me, I went to that restaurant when I was in Paris’ when really we should be showing compassion for all humanity. There are people in the world who continue to face this kind of fear every day of their lives.

    But, we shouldn’t let terror control us, that is what terrorists want. Enjoy Paris, enjoy champagne, enjoy Life xx

  4. I was at work as the news alerts came in, as tragic isolated incidents escalated into a terrorist attack. I am so, so grateful you and Joe and other friends are safe. Thank you for sharing this. My heart is heavy with the terror around the world. Love to you and Paris and all.

  5. I woke up to the news yesterday. And while I know this happens, it’s so scary to see it happen somewhere you go, somewhere you can say “I was just there”, or “My friends live there!”. Saw your snapchat yesterday and I’m certainly glad you are safe. Life is a crazy thing, and incidents like this really show that there is no promise of tomorrow…even in a city that you don’t think it would happen in.

  6. Thank you for letting your readers know you are safe but also for giving an insight into what really happened. As soon as I saw the news I thought of you and some other friends who live in Paris and breathed a sigh of relief when one by one I heard everyone is ok. My thoughts are with everyone there and around the world who has been affected.
    Laura (inJapan)

  7. I’m happy to hear you’re safe – I checked your Snapchat the moment I found out as you are one of the only people I’m following on Snapchat who’s in Paris.

    I’m also happy you mentioned Beirut and Baghdad, as the media tends to forget about those who live with these terrible atrocities on a daily basis.

  8. So so happy that you’re safe.
    My heart breaks that this is becoming such a common occurrence across the globe. It’s about time somebody stepped in and stopped the violence, not just in Paris or Beirut but for everywhere. No one deserves a life filled with this much uncertainty xo

  9. Oof. I’m so sorry to hear that you were so close! I too would have spent the next day at home, recovering. That is extremely traumatizing. I’m so glad you’re ok. And I hope that you feel less scared today. But if you don’t, that’s ok too. It’s a terrifying world to live in, where such things are possible, it really is…

  10. Believe it or not the first I heard of this was from your Snapchat. I was in Florida just getting ready to head to the airport to fly back to Germany and saw the snap that said there were shootings and the streets were being closed down. At the airport, a friend texted to ask whether I’d heard what was happening in Paris and that’s when I checked the news and realized how large-scale and horrific this event was. Glad you are safe, at least physically.

  11. Thank you for sharing your story!

  12. I’m so relieved to hear that you are safe. And I completely agree on what is needed:#parisisaboutlife

  13. I was so relieved to hear you were safe too! It seems so far away to many of us, yet when it happens where you live, it brings it so much closer. I am thinking of the wonderful city of Paris and its residents.

  14. My heart dropped as I watched you snapchats. I have been reading your blog for quite a while and decided to follow on social media as a way to stay connected. Your beautiful writing transported me to that place, along with all the emotions you have experienced. I am glad you and your loved ones are safe. May you and everyone there find peace and joy. Sending positive vibes all the way from Hawaii. :)

  15. I can’t imagine being in Paris – let alone only a couple of miles away – from one of the attacks, and I’m glad you and your friends were safe! Thank you for sharing your story, and for the poignant reminder to be grateful that this type of tragedy isn’t something we have to experience on a daily basis.

  16. Edna, so glad you are safe (i loved the FB feature where I could see all my friends checking in). I cannot even imagine Friday night in Paris. This is such an eloquent piece – thank you for sharing. I know it must have been hard. Please stay safe. And celebrate life. XO

  17. Lucinda Hogentogler says:

    Edna, thanks of for sharing the events of Friday night with such candor and sensitivity. I shared this with my journalism students at your alma mater ( sorry our paths never crossed while you were here!), and they would love to correspond with you–about your writing, your career path, your experiences. We’re all so thankful that you are fine… Bless you.

  18. This must have been absolutely terrifying, Edna. I was going to say that I can’t imagine what you were going through, but, sadly, I know all too well. I was on a plane on 9/11, en route from DC to Florida. The memories of that day are etched forever in my memory: the fear, the not knowing what was happening. If it’s any consolation, the people who were with you in that Paris bar will likely be in your life forever. I now count the woman sitting next to me on that plane as one of my dearest friends. She’s even come to visit me in Latvia!

  19. Even all the way over here in Italy there seems to be a slight tension in the air that wasn’t there a week ago, I can’t imagine how it must be in Paris right now. I have no idea how it’s possible to recover from these sorts of events, but somehow I do know deep down that Paris won’t give up its champagne and joy so easily. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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