FOR THE SECOND TIME this year, Emmanuel, the three-hundred year old, thirteen ton, Grand Bourdon de la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the largest of Notre-Dame’s bells, tolled for the victims of a violent attack.
In January this year the Paris offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, were attacked and twelve people were killed and eleven injured.
Last Friday evening a series of attacks took place in Paris that made the Charlie Hebdo attack look like a skirmish: 129 people were killed and 352 were wounded of which 99 are reportedly in a critical condition.
At 6.15 last Saturday evening le Grand Bourdon, Emmanuel, tolled mournfully ahead of a special Mass led by the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, for the victims of the latest attacks and their relatives in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
At midday yesterday a minute’s silence was held across France.
It’s very tempting in the face of the latest attacks to produce a blog piece about how much I love this city (which I do), about how Parisians have faced up to the situation with fortitude and solidarity (which they have) and how we must carry on as normal otherwise the bad guys win (which we must) – and I might have done that had it not been for an encounter I had yesterday afternoon.
At midday yesterday I, along with thousands of others, observed the minute’s silence after which I went to pay my respects at the sites where lives had been lost.
I’d already been to the Bataclan concert venue, where the biggest loss of life occurred, and to La Belle Équipe, a bistro I know well in rue de Charonne, although I only found out later that the attack on La Belle Équipe had left the owner, Grégory Reibenberg, cradling his dying wife in his arms.
I walked up to rue Fontaine de la Roi and the Casa Nostra restaurant to find bullet holes in the windows and blood stains on the street and then to rue Alibert and the café Le Carillon and the restaurant Le Petit Camboge.
I sat on a Parisian green bench looking across the street at the café and the restaurant, both the heart of the community in this neighbourhood. Yesterday, both were closed.
As usual, these places were busy last Friday evening but around 10.30 pm all that changed. A car pulled up, two young men got out, opened fire and within seconds fourteen people were dead. An eyewitness said the gunmen didn’t spray bullets randomly, instead they systematically picked their targets, shot them, and they fell like dominoes one at a time.
From my green bench I was trying to imagine the scene when I saw a predatory television producer trying first to seduce and then to pressure people to be interviewed, almost to the point of harassment.
Presently, a young woman, in her early twenties I suppose, walked across from Le Carillon, sat down beside me and began sobbing uncontrollably. She was distressed and inconsolable.
The TV producer began to walk towards us but then, seeing my icy stare, she thought better of it and moved on in search of other victims. It seems the insatiable appetite of the 24-hour news channels must be fed by whatever means.
Although I’d never met this young woman before and will probably never meet her again, both she and the predatory TV producer left an indelible mark on me and made me see these attacks for what they really were.
The apologists of course will ascribe blame for the attacks to whatever best suits their prejudices and politicians will attribute motives and promote remedies to suit their political preferences. The solidarity shown in the immediate aftermath of the attacks will inevitably break down and the recriminations will begin.
The world’s media camped out in tented villages across Paris will no doubt continue to feed off the tragic misfortune of others by regurgitating the same pictures over and over again and will continue to forage for morsels of information, speculation and so-called ‘human interest’ angles to keep the ‘story’ alive – at least until a bigger story comes along.
Whatever their motive, whatever banner they were following, whatever cause they claimed to believe in, the brutal fact is that eight young men rampaged through Paris last Friday evening and in the space of three hours systematically slaughtered 129 completely innocent, mainly young people, wounded 352 others and left 99 of them fighting for their lives – not to mention the resulting anguish of countless relatives and friends.
I doubt the young woman sobbing beside me yesterday had much thought for the motives behind the events of last Friday or the media’s coverage of them. The tragedy had clearly struck her hard, most likely personally.
Like all those who died or were injured, or those bereaved like Grégory Reibenberg at La Belle Équipe, or the relatives of those still unaccounted for, this young woman was a victim and, in the face of such indiscriminate violence, we are all victims.
The Bataclan – 89 dead
La Belle Equipe – 18 dead
Casa Nostra – 5 dead
Le Petite Camboge (and La Carillon) – 14 dead