On Friday the 13th November 2015 Paris was subjected to a vicious terrorist attack which killed 130 people. Less than three weeks after the Paris attacks we visited the city of love and witnessed a city wide outpouring of grief.
We took a walk along Boulevard Voltaire and saw flowers and candles covering the ground where some of the attacks took place. A large memorial site has been claimed across the road from the Bataclan Theatre, which is still an active crime scene. Poignantly, Eagles of Death Metal, (the name of the band playing that night) remains unchanged on the sign outside the building. Since the 1970’s the venue has been the home of live rock music in the French capital. Under the roof of the Bataclan, generations of Parisians danced a youthful, lusty rebellion to their own era defining tunes. Once synonymous with youth, joy and pleasure, the Bataclan will be remembered very differently from now on.
The place de la republique has become a focal area for the collective grief of a city standing strong against terrorism. Messages and memorials from around the world sit at the feet of the bronze statue of Marrianne, the symbolic personification of the triumph of the French republic. We witnessed many people in the area lighting candles, laying floral tributes and leaving messages. Most of the notes offer support and friendship, some express horror, question why or urge unity. But above all the most overwhelming message is that of Love.
In the days after the attacks the world pledged its support to France. Citizens from nations across the globe joined together in memorial services and expressed their shock at what had happened in Paris. People who felt powerless to do anything physical pledged their support via the internet, using hashtags like #prayforparis or adding a tricolour to their facebook photos. People needed to feel they were doing something and show that they were not going to take the attacks lying down. The hashtag #sprayforparis led to street artists picking up their paint cans and offering messages of support from around the world. At the place de la republique the street art is evolving on a daily basis with messages of support being covered over as quickly as they appear.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity) is the motto of the French republic. The traditional values which the nation is based upon have never felt more important to modern Parisians than they do right now.
People will tell you Paris is back to normal, that everyone is going about their day to day lives, that the attack has changed nothing. But the tourist destinations tell a very different story. The museums and monuments are virtually empty, armed guards, police and the military patrol the city. Everyone is nervous, tightly coiled and waiting for something to happen. You can easily sit in a café eating a croissant, soaking up the Parisian culture and forget what has happened here. Then suddenly a unit of armed police will cross the street and remind you of the scale of the tragedy.
In light of recent events, there is little humour to be found in Paris at the moment. But we did have a chuckle to ourselves when amongst the chaos of the Christmas markets we spotted the armed guards who had been tasked with guarding the ATM.