Monday, November 16, 2015

In Paris it's not another manic Monday

© Simon Poulter 2015
​Monday morning. Paris has woken for another working week. The difference, this time, is that it follows a weekend no one will ever forget.

The bars, cafes and shops that closed on Saturday, and remained so yesterday, will reopen, slowly and gingerly. People will take the Métro, gather around office coffee machines, go out to lunch, and later go home, picking up bread and wine for the evening meal along the way. All the things Paris will have done on countless Mondays before. Except on this Monday, with a tangible solemnity.

Yesterday, unseasonably warm sunshine proved irresistable to locals and tourists alike. They came out of their homes and hotels to sit in the parks, a celebration of life in its own right.

As I walked through the Jardins du Trocadéro, across Pont d'Iéna in front of the Eiffel Tower and then along Port de la Bourdonnais, there was no obvious dimming of the crowds, or their mood.

This, I'm sure, would have been part relief, part compensation, and part determination to not let a weekend in Paris be ruined completely. No one had to say it, but people weren't going to let the bad guys achieve exactly what defines "terrorism".

Eventually circling back up the Champs-Élysées, there was, though, a decidedly more muted tone. As one of the few areas of Paris to allow shops to be open on a Sunday, many - if not most - were shut. Threading their way through the tourists, police with shotguns and sub-machine guns augmented the trios of soldiers who've patrolled this gaudy, over-commercialised avenue for some time now.

Inevitably, one felt comfort, but up to a point. Friday's attacks - well organised, well orchestrated and clearly well equipped - came without warning and with a force that would even question the effectivenes of armed officers posted in every doorway in the city.

Paris will heal. The mental scars of those drenched in the blood of others will not. It would be crass, stupid and bloody obvious to suggest, for journalistic effect, that the attacks have changed Paris irreparably. And, anyway, people said just that in January. Paris got back on with being Paris, which was exactly what Paris was doing on Friday night.

The French ambassador to London yesterday described Friday night's bloodshed as "France's 9/11". Thus the 7/7 attacks were London's 9/11, the Madrid rail bombings Spain's. These are worthy sentiments, projecting a sense of solidarity and membership of an ignominious club. But they are also just soundbites, soundbites which don't relieve the pain of losing loved ones simply enjoying a Friday night out. And they don't extinguish the fear that the nihlistic, narcisstic death cult responsible for sending eight young, brainwashed men to Paris will strike again. On another Friday night, on a Monday morning, at any time.

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