Bastille Day in Nice, France: Anguish instead of celebration
A year after truck attack, memorial services replace usual festivities
NICE, FRANCE While most of France celebrates Bastille Day on Friday, Emilie Petitjean will mourn the death of her 10- yearold son, Romain, one of 86 victims in last year’s truck rampage through a holiday crowd on this French Riviera resort.
“The approach of July 14 is bringing back nightmares and anguished feelings that I thought I had overcome,” Petitjean said. “For those who have lost family members, there are scars that will never be healed.”
During last year’s Bastille Day celebration on the Promenade des Anglais along the Mediterranean Sea, a Tunisian- born French resident, Mohamed LahouaiejBouhlel, 31, mowed down hundreds of people with a 19- ton truck shortly after the fireworks ended. Besides those killed, 435 were injured.
Today, the promenade shows no obvious scars. Older tourists in elegant straw hats sit on the iconic blue metal chairs that face the azure sea — the ultimate symbol of relaxation in Nice — as families and gaggles of teenagers linger while eating ice cream on their way from the beach.
The open- air cafes buzz with chatter and music. Still, things are different.
To commemorate the first anniversary of the attack, traditional Bastille Day festivities in Nice and neighboring towns have been suspended or postponed this year.
Instead, a memorial ceremony will be held Friday afternoon in the majestic Place Massena, the main square, followed by a concert by the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra.
The seafront at the Quai des Etats- Unis will not be as lively — it will become a scene of remembrance all day Friday. And French President Emmanuel Macron and his two predecessors, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, will attend the somber ceremony. Afterward they will meet with the victims’ families in private.
For Petitjean, it won’t be the usual holiday of fireworks and food with her family. It will instead be the culmination of months of planning for the anniversary ceremony, because she is president of the Promenade des Anglais victims association.
Still, for those who lost family members or were seriously injured, no memorial can heal the wounds left by that day, much less the shock of what happened.
Last year, Greg Krentzman and his family were visiting Nice from Culver City, Calif., and were at the Bastille Day celebrations. A year later, Krentzman, his wife and 10- year- old daughter, Lola, are again here but aren’t sure they want to attend the ceremonies.
“My wife is a little bit nervous,” Krentzman said about his French wife, Sophie. “There’s a big crowd and she’s hoping there will be security in place.”
While Sophie and Lola were able to avoid the truck, Krentzman’s right leg was crushed by the impact, requiring a lengthy hospital stay in Nice. The attack left him with hefty medical bills and unable to work for several months.
“My daughter is young and doesn’t remember the incident so well, but my wife and I remember it pretty well. It has also hit my wife closely because she’s from Nice,” he said.
“It’s been a struggle. Some days are better than others,” he added. “We are certainly better now because time does heal, but it’s still on our minds a lot. These things take a while to move from.”
That’s something Nice’s Muslim community knows well: One- third of those killed were Muslims.
Fatima Charrihi, 62, a grandmother of Moroccan origin, was Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s first victim.
“The people who do these things don’t have any humanity. They don’t want us to live together,” said her daughter, Hanane Charrihi, 28.
Her pain was compounded by the reaction she and her family faced after the attack: Some residents heckled them on the streets as a “band of terrorists.”
“But the degree of support I have received has largely canceled out the three or four negative comments I had,” she added.
Meanwhile, city leaders say Nice has shown its true face since the attack.
“The city has been resilient. It has rebuilt itself calmly and prudently, showing respect for everyone,” said Deputy Mayor Philippe Pradal. “The values of the republic are stronger than those who want to divide us.”
Greg Krentzman of California, left, and Gaetano Moscato of Italy were injured in Nice when someone drove a truck through a crowd last year.
Fatima Charrihi, left, was the attacker’s first victim.