Yes that’s right boys and girls, Bill and I were in Paris during the terrorist attacks. We went so Bill could attend Paris Photo, going on at Grand Palais from Wednesday November 11 to Sunday November 15. Or at least that was the plan. We were able to attend on Wednesday and Thursday, after which Bill felt he had succeeded in what he set out to do: see what’s out there and who is showing what and where, which left us plenty of days to see the sights, galleries and museums on our bucket list.
Or so we thought.
I will be posting all about what we were able to see before the horrific events that shut all public venues down beginning on the evening of Friday, November 13th. But before I do, I thought I would post an entry from my other blog Notes from a Jersey Girl, just to let you know what it was like to be an American in Paris during the horrific events and the subsequent days.
Notre Dame as seen through the rain from across the street under an awning at Shakespeare and Company
Bill purchased timed tickets for the Picasso Museum for early Saturday morning, so before retiring for the night he set the alarm on his cell phone. About an hour later it began to go crazy with beeps, dings and buzzes. What the hell?! We got up to turn it off, looked at the screen and low and behold there were several texts from friends telling us to stay safe and asking if we were all right. From our slightly open window I could hear sirens in the distance and a helicopter over head. Come to think of it, the sirens had been going on for quite some time, beginning after dinner. Cars with blue lights racing down the streets along the Seine. We also almost bumped into several people dressed in emergency costume walking over the bridge when we returned from dinner to Ile St Louis. They didn’t look alarmed so we thought nothing of it. There was no indication that anything was wrong earlier in the evening. We took the metro to and from dinner at Boullion Chantier on Blvd Faubourg in Montmartre with friends Nora and Francois, having had a lovely time, with plans to meet up with them after the Picasso museum to go to the Brocante in the Bastille.
Bill fired up the laptop and logged into the NY Times website. Holy moly terrorist attacks in Paris, right under our noses! Around the same time we could hear people milling around outside our door and lots of muffled buzzes of cellphones logging messages in vibrate mode outside our room. 120 dead at a concert! A bomb going off at a soccer stadium?! Restaurants and cafes attacked?! OMG! I lay there in my nice comfy bed staring at the grey sky, listening to the sirens and the helicopter. No, please God, not again. I was in lower Manhattan during the September 11 attacks, what now? We called my mother. We answered texts. We frantically texted friends in Paris. We slept about 2 hours.
“Bon jour, comment va votre famille?” is all I could formulate, right or wrong, reaching into the nether regions of my memory banks to high school French. I practiced in the shower so I could ask the very nice lady who cleans our rooms and the man who fetches our morning coffee if their families were all accounted for. They stopped in their tracks, a slight hitch in their steps, a deviation from the morning routine. Each looked at me and smiled and said everyone was ok, thank you, and for me to be CAREFUL and wished me good day.
Why am I here at this auspicious moment? Was it just an accident of time and place or am I here for a reason? Why am I in the midst of terrorist action yet again? All I could think of was God must want me here, but why? Being over 50, and reading that most of the dead, terrorists included, were in their 20’s with the days of their whole lives in front of them spread like jewels, my heart went to the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. No one should ever have to bury a child. Then I got angry. Let me tell you, if I had to pick between sadness, depression or anger I’d take anger any day. Anger gives you energy. Anger gets you moving. Anger gives you fuel to put one foot in front of the other. Depression and sadness make you take to your bed and pull the covers over your head. That will not do if your life maybe at stake and who knows what the light of day would bring for us? No way am I curling up in a corner for some terrorist, no way, no how. If I’m going down I’m going down swinging for the bleachers.
So we got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and went out the door. My first stop was the church about a block away. On September 11, before heading home, I stopped in the nearest church I could find. On September 11, 2001, in New York City, the door to every house of worship was flung open. Men and women of the clergy paced outside. People of every color, persuasion, ethnicity, religion, non-religion seemed to be inside each one, stopping for a moment to take a breath before continuing on. I kicked myself this morning for not remembering my rosary beads. Anyway, I just needed to go to church to regroup. I get there, and there’s a sign that it’s closed for the entire day! I snuck inside anyway and was quickly ushered out. Wow! So different than at home. I guess church is just another public placed closed by the government on this day. I suppose it’s for my safety but to be real, if I’m going to die, the best place for me to die would be in church. I’d already be in God’s house, I’m sure the tunnel with the white light at the end would be just through a hallway off the nave, right? A real cultural correction for me!
So we wandered around a bit. Bill wanted to go to the Bastille. I thought he was nuts. Let’s go to a place the French are really patriotic about when there’s a Jihad going on, oh let’s do! Then we went to the aqueduct now converted to a park on top, stores below. Bill wanted to walk on top. Hello- ducks on parade in a shooting gallery! I don’t think so! We managed to wander back to the hotel, but really, aside from a line of people snaking around the block to give blood at a clinic, and public buildings closed, there was no indication that anything was wrong. I was surprised.
My friend Marybeth said if people were like fruit, Americans would be peaches: soft and sweet on the outside but hard on the inside, while the French are like melons: hard on the outside but soft and sweet in the middle. Well the French were putting us Americans to shame. Heels down, chin up, grab mane was the mantra of the day for everyone we passed on the street. I was impressed. Rather than run around like hysterical squirrels the way I do in a crisis, they carried on, hard shells intact.
And speaking of hysterical squirrels, how the hell am I going to get Fred on an airplane in his huge white cardboard box during a state of high terrorist alert?! Lastly, how do I categorize this installment? I was just thinking yesterday that this was the first trip Bill and I have taken in years that doesn’t qualify as a wife survival test. But then again…. Is this a diary? Survival test? A rant? Maybe all 3.
Let me close with one of my favorite prayers apropos of the occasion. It’s to my favorite uber saint, Saint Michael the Archangel. If you are not familiar with the hierarchy, archangels trump superheros. They have amazing powers and are not to be trifled with. As I pray the following words I envision the AK 47 wielding, grenade tossing demons wrecking havoc over the innocent souls in Paris, who did nothing to deserve their fate other than be in the wrong place at the wrong time, being stuffed straight back into hell where they belong, to atone mightily for all eternity:
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..