200 days on: The mark that the Paris attacks left on me, and the city where I live

By: Dan Baker

I had returned from work just 20 minutes before the notification on my university group chat warned me of the situation, 'Gunshots heard in Paris.' Reading that on the BBC website is something for which you cannot be prepared. I watched the death toll rise, one by one, with two different news stations and a twitter feed as live images of the attacks reached me. Watching a death rise smoothly and incessantly rise is a numb feeling, I became acutely aware of my breathing, I felt I was falling into a chasm and I stared blurry and wide-eyed at my laptop screen. 'Hostages taken in Paris' in the Bataclan.  One by one, members of the chat read this message confirming to us that they were okay and safe, we were telling people to stay indoors.

I became aware of the size of my small apartment, and the walls suffocated me. My phone was trembling with the hoards of notifications and I mustered enough energy to call my mum and dad, letting them know I was okay. Although I am not proud of this, I went out. I was trapped in my 20m2 apartment and I was hyperaware that I was not supposed to leave but a mixture of morbid curiosity and utter claustrophobia drove me out of the confines of my safety net. Sirens hysteria and barricades are what I saw. Chairs pilled up in front of windows, lights off in cafés, people hiding behind tables and others sat, mouths open, speaking in raspy voices and looking violently disoriented. I saw 12 ambulances in 5 minutes. I counted. I returned shortly after. 6am I finally turned off the news and got some sleep. My worse night to record.

On Saturday 14th November I left the flat twice. I walked to the Bataclan theatre, straight from Bastille where I live, a journey which took a meagre 8 minutes and looked at the growing memorial for the fallen. I wandered aimlessly around the shop for about an hour, trying to decide what to buy, clearly I was dazed by the experience. The second occasion was supposed to be a 5-minute trip to Starbucks, however I barely crossed the road before a stampede of people came running from behind me. Three police cars pull up, and the policer officers start pointing the gun my direction. I have experienced adrenaline like it, nor have I ever been able to run as fast. Hundreds of coffee cups and wine glasses shattered as people helplessly clambered over the terrace furniture. The whole event is smuggled and warped by this surge in panic. I read online the day after that it was caused by a false alarm. This event for me accurately depicts the atmosphere in Paris in the weeks following the attacks. I received countless emails from my University, who dealt with the situation is the best they possibly could, however receiving a copy of the security procedure 'in case of intruder' is less than reassuring.

200 days on, soldiers armed with rifles, trigger ready, circulate constantly around the metropolis. It seems almost natural to see military camouflage mixed with the subtle tones of the Parisian dress code and the white facades of the historical architecture. Guilty until proven innocent has become norm. An intrusive frisk or magnetic wand, along with the customary bag search are now instinctive when doing my weekly shop, or going for a drink with a friend. Recently, the French Parliament agreed to a third extension of the state of emergency that was initially put into action by François Holland during the aftermath of the November 13 attacks. You might expect that I am happy to see this, having lived though such dark events, however with the Egypt Airline fight pointing towards terrorism, it seems to state of emergency serves only to oppress civil liberties and to increase public fear and uncertainty as the city of love looks more and more like an Orwellian dystopia.

The Paris attacks were felt deeply by Parisians and those who live in the city.  Those who had died were just like us, just having fun on a Friday night. Although amongst the wilted roses and tealights you could read "Meme pas peur" translating as "We are not afraid" hanging from the Marianne statue at Place de La Republique, it was clear by the solemn air, people were indeed afraid. The Paris attacks attacked not the French nationality, Catholicism or political beliefs but the French way of life. Sitting outside "en terrace", with friends or colleagues after work is typically French. This time-honoured tradition dates to 1870, where we saw small-scale working class social relations and labour movements being born from cafes. The Parisian cafe represents the solidarity of the French people as much as the tri-colour flag, and an attack on the cafés is an attack on the values on which the Fifth Republic is founded.

Terrorists use fear as a psychological weapon, and it can have serious psychological implications for individuals and whole countries. Personally, I have only one lasting effect following the attacks. I am hyperaware of sirens, to the point where I can hear them from miles away, and each one takes me straight to that night, as ambulance after ambulance went past. It sends a cold shiver and feeling of dread shooting through my body. I can only imagine the immense trauma those involved must feel.

The biggest risk stemming from the attacks could be a growth in support for far-right political movements, so called populist parties. President François Hollande was not exactly popular before the terror attacks, and his re-election in 2017 is doubtful. Seeing a 'President Marine Le Pen' from the far-right Front National party is the gloomy future which France could face. It's very likely that Le Pen will cause a division on the political spectrum, as the FN could force 'Les Republicains' a centre-right party, further right, in order to capture votes. This could lead to a growing division between the Catholics and secular supporters of the party and the largest Muslim population in Europe, found in France.

Should you avoid Paris? In honesty, no. Paris still seems to be excluded to the world, with a unique Bistro or cafe on every corner. The 1800s architecture stands tall and proud, with the magnificent uniform facades. You can still experience a historical journey when you stroll down the Parisian boulevards. The hustle and bustle of Paris cannot be contained nor silenced, and the Parisian zest for life cannot be dampened.
200 days on: The mark that the Paris attacks left on me, and the city where I live 200 days on: The mark that the Paris attacks left on me, and the city where I live Reviewed by Student Voices on 14:09 Rating: 5

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