clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

After the terror, Paris looks inward and ahead

As authorities search for answers, a city comes together in mourning

The skies were gray and drizzly over Paris today, as the city continued to mourn the 129 lives that were lost in a series of horrific terrorist attacks Friday night. Around 50 people were gathered outside Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon, where diners and revelers were gunned down just before 9:30PM Friday. Flowers, candles, and hand-scrawled messages of support were strewn across the sidewalk in front of the restaurant and bar, which sit directly across from one another at a normally vibrant intersection in the city's 11th arrondissement. Some wept softly in the arms of loved ones, others stared at the ground in silence.

Frédérique, a 24-year-old illustrator who used to live in the neighborhood, was sitting by herself on the corner of a bench just in front of Le Carillon, wearing a long black coat and staring through teary eyes at the mass of bouquets and photos that had been dampened by an overnight rain. Her gaze was broken when a friend passed by on a bicycle, and she got up to greet him. They hadn't seen each other in a while, and they both conducted a brief check-in. "Are your friends okay?" "They're fine, we were lucky. But I have friends of friends..." They kissed again, he sped off, and she returned to her bench.

Frédérique had been reluctant to visit any of the memorials that had been set up in front of the six sites that were targeted in Friday's attack. "The authorities told us not to be outside in large groups," she explained to me. "And they have enough to worry about right now." But she figured the scene would be quieter just before noon on a Tuesday, and decided to finally pay her respects at a corner she used to frequent with her friends.

"I'm not going to dance tonight. Maybe next week, but not tonight."

"It's like when you lose a friend," she said. "You have to go to the funeral to complete the mourning. To try to have some closure."

The bar and restaurant are both shuttered now, and Paris is slowly lurching back to life. But closure seems a far way off. The bloodiest attack on French soil since World War II has jolted the city to its core. Scattered among the mountain of flowers today were messages of hope and perseverance. "For you, we will live," read a white balloon tied to a sidewalk pole. A handwritten note read: "We are going to drink, we are going to laugh, we are going to make love." But Frédérique says it will be a long time before her life returns to normal.

"We are going to continue to live, I'm sure," she said. "Tonight, I'm going to have raclette and drink wine with my friends — the wine seller in my neighborhood invited everyone to his store for dinner. But I'm not going to dance tonight. Maybe next week, but not tonight."

paris memorial

As the city tries to put itself back together, French authorities are looking for answers. The suspected mastermind of the plot, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is still at large, and on Tuesday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the exact number of assassins involved in the attacks is still unknown.

In a rare address to the National Assembly and Senate yesterday, French President Francois Hollande called for constitutional changes that he says would allow the government to combat terrorism both in France and abroad. Among the amendments he supports is a measure that would allow the government to raid suspected terrorist enclaves without a warrant, and one that would allow the state to strip convicted terrorists of their French nationality if they hold two passports. He added that the country's current state of emergency would be extended to three months.

"We're now aware of what the rest of the world goes through."

Hollande said he would also consider expanding France's surveillance powers. Following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket earlier this year, France passed sweeping legislation that some have likened to a French Patriot Act. The law, which went into effect in July, allows the state to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists without a warrant, and obliges internet service providers to grant unfettered access to their networks. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has touted the law as critical to preventing future attacks, though the country's surveillance machine apparently failed to pick up on last week's assault. In an interview with French radio on Monday, Valls acknowledged that France was aware that an attack was being planned prior to Friday's violence, and said that other operations were likely in the works.

Frédérique acknowledged that Parisians will probably have "a little less freedom" following the attacks, and she thinks that's "unfortunate." But she hopes the tragedy may spur her friends — a collection of artists, designers, and writers — to be more politically engaged in their work. "We're now aware of what the rest of the world goes through," she said. "Countries at war, all the violence — we see it elsewhere but now it's arrived here."

Others are worried that France's increasingly powerful far-right politicians may use the attacks to build support for its anti-immigrant agenda. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National political party, has already called for France to immediately stop accepting refugees fleeing Syria and Afghanistan, while Valls said this week that the country needs to "expel all these radicalized imams." Some in France's Muslim community, Europe's largest, say they fear retaliation from those who may wrongly blame them for the violence.

paris memorial

In front of Le Petit Cambodge, a few meters away from where Frédérique was sitting, a veiled woman named Kahina stood with her baby boy in her arms. She said she came there today to express solidarity with her fellow Parisians, and "to show that these acts do not represent Islam." But she fears that some may unfairly target her or her husband because of their religion, and worries about the world that their children will grow up in.

"There will be some French people who think of us a certain way because we wear a veil, or because my husband has a beard," said Kahina, 27. "But for us, this has nothing to do with Islam. It's a religion of peace, of love."

Leaving the memorial site, I stopped for a coffee at a small, trendy cafe down the street — all wood, white brick, and right angles. Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was playing softly in the background and a small table was covered with newspapers that all carried variations on the same headline: "FRANCE AT WAR."

I rummaged through my pockets looking for change, but didn't have quite enough for an espresso. The cafe owner, a tall, bearded man with a shaved head and warm eyes, smiled back from behind the counter and told me not to worry. I thanked him, and said I would come back to pay off my debt.

"It's okay, don't come back for that," he said. "Come back when the neighborhood comes back to life. When the music returns."