2500 killed or injured. If Nov. 13 had occurred in the US, that’s what the number would be proportional to the size of the populations. USA is about 325 million, France 64 million. 129 killed, 352 wounded – almost 500 people.
I finished the other two blogs about Ireland before tackling the current situation in Paris. Somewhat because I don’t know what to write. I can tell you the facts in my life. I had gone to a show – How To Be A Parisien In an Hour – a comedy revue. Probably less than a mile from the terrorist activity that occurred an hour later. And then about 2030 (8:30) my friend Anna and I went to dinner in the 2nd arrondisement.
We had a delightful and delicious dinner and lingered talking until 2300 (11:00). My phone was in my purse. Yup – many of you who know me well might wonder – but I do put it away at times. And when I went to use CityMapper to find the best bus home, I saw ALERTS from AP, BBC, Le Parisien, Figaro, Le Monde – and even two texts from friends in the states. “Are you alive?” That’s a shock to the system. I scanned the alerts and called the waiter over – maybe I was not reading it right – 30 dead in Paris? Truly I was the first person in the restaurant to know and this was at least an hour after it started. And 45 minutes after my first text from the US. The guys next to us started looking at their phones too. Friends told them to stay away – they live in that area. The guys told us not to take the metro – someone thought a terrorist might have used it to get away.
OK then. What do you do? We figured we needed to get going as our options would be fewer and fewer as the night went on. Outside, yes, taxis. But none available. Emergency vehicles and police cars screaming by. I tried Uber but it came up with a window saying the Uber service was disrupted.
I am usually a great strategic thinker. Creating multiple ‘what if’ scenarios in my mind. Multi-tasking. Not then. I couldn’t process. A mild form of shock, I concluded later. I could think about Uber. Then stop. Think about bus. Then stop. Think about Metro – stop. And cycled back to Uber. So I took the phone out and this time I tried to click past the warning message. I got to the map screen! Success. Except. Those of you who use Uber know that the map screen shows you all the Uber cars in the area. Usually the screen is full of tiny cars. Not tonight. One single car. And 12 minutes away. I clicked Request and prayed. Well, I would have prayed if I could have processed the two thoughts at the same time.
He accepted. So we waited on the corner, me counting out the minutes to Anna – 11, 10, 8, 7… both of us were praying at that point that he didn’t change his mind. Our options were played out. And then there he was, our white knight on a white charger – or a blue Renault.
Anna had her own shocky moment when she had trouble spelling the name of her street. We were taking her home first and then me back to my place – 6 miles away. (walking wouldn’t have been an option. I can do the distance, but not on a night like that after midnight). She’s more fluent in French than me – he told her that he was just about on his way home when my request came through. And he didn’t want to leave me stranded. See – white knight! And an Arabic knight. Maybe Muslim. This isn’t about religion – it’s about power and politics and evil people.
Home, I turned to BBC and two French news channel to find out exactly what was happening. And it turns out our theatre was probably less than a mile from the Bataclan theatre where the shooting started about an hour after we left the area. We had dinner about 1.5 miles away. My house is about 6 miles away.
I stayed in today – tired with only 4 hours of sleep and had no desire to go on the metro and I wasn’t sure what was open anyway. Government offices and facilities (except for weddings) were all closed. Disneyland is closed until at least Wednesday. The Eiffel Tower is closed and dark. No lights shining tonight and for a while. Many stores are closed – owners’ decision. I did run out to the boulangerie about 10. Yes. Open.
Anna and I had dinner together using FaceTime. It’s a time when it’s good to connect with friends and family. Thanks to all friends who contacted me on Facebook or text or email. Facebook has a new feature – when I opened the app, FB immediately said – you appear to be in the area of the Paris Attacks. Do you want to check in and tell your friends you are safe? I said yes and it was done. What a great public service! And friends in Paris kept in touch – text or calls or video. I felt the concern and support and I appreciated it.
But as I was thinking about actually getting together in person with friends and thought about having coffee or dinner… I remembered, while the majority of those killed were at the theatre, the others were relaxing on a Friday night with friends over dinner in their local cafes. This is not limited to the big venues. They are trying to make all parts of your life feel unsafe. I don’t have the pulse of Paris on this. I expect the Parisien spirit will be like Je Suis Charlie. But right now any demonstrations are forbidden. The authorities have more work to investigate.
The reality of all this struck me later in the day when I was talking to an American friend who has lived in Paris for years. She told me that a friend of her son’s was killed in the Cambodian restaurant.
People ask me when I am coming back. Not until I have to, in December. While I don’t understand the infrastructure and am not totally fluent in the language (although I did get all of Hollande’s speech today), I have been buoyed by my French and expat friends.
I still love Paris.