Scottish Daily Mail

Night they came in hope and de­fi­ance for their City of Light

- from Richard Pendle­bury IN PARIS Paris · Notre-Dame de Paris · University of Notre Dame · Eiffel Tower · Louvre · Mona Lisa · Seine · Disneyland · Champs-Élysées · Pearl Harbor · Voltaire · Laos · France · Florence · Kabul · Baghdad · Lebanon · Gaza City · Gaza Strip · Prince and the Revolution · Verdun · Bataclan · Pearl Harbor

Night falls on a stricken city. thou­sands gather out­side Notre Dame cathe­dral. it is a som­bre act of de­fi­ance, sol­i­dar­ity and hope by Parisians against a mur­der­ous in­tol­er­ance that stalks their streets once again.

th­ese are strange times in the City of Light.

Yes­ter­day, Paris was closed: tout est fermé. On an ex­quis­ite au­tumn day which, in other cir­cum­stances, would have been a cel­e­bra­tion of life and love, the world’s favourite ro­man­tic des­ti­na­tion had shut its doors and gone into mourn­ing.

No one was al­lowed to climb the Eif­fel tower, now pa­trolled by sol­diers in cam­ou­flage and car­ry­ing as­sault ri­fles.

At the Es­planade du Lou­vre, the only peo­ple who got near to the fa­mous mu­seum were armed po­lice. the Chi­nese and Ja­panese tourists had to be sat­is­fied with dis­tant self­ies of the glass pyra­mid, rather than a close-up with the Mona Lisa.

And yet there was still one pub­lic build­ing that re­mained open. in fact, it was busier than ever be­fore.

the in­sti­tut Medico Le­gal is the city’s morgue. it stands on the Pont d’Auster­litz, above the sparkling Seine and within sight of the dome of Notre Dame de Paris.

Eight stone steps lead up to its front door be­neath a clas­si­cal por­tico. how hard those steps must have been to climb yes­ter­day for the fam­i­lies of the dead.

this was where the bod­ies of the so far 129 vic­tims of Fri­day’s mas­sacre were be­ing held. they could be re­leased for burial only fol­low­ing a for­mal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

And so, by stag­gered ap­point­ment to avoid an even more dis­tress­ing queue, the be­reaved stepped out into the sun­shine to con­firm the ir­repara­ble frac­tur­ing of their fam­i­lies.

Few wanted to talk. One el­derly man stopped to ex­plain: ‘it is my daugh­ter’s hus­band’s body we have come to see. he was in the Bat­a­clan [the con­cert hall where 89 died].’

Later, three tall, young, black men en­tered the smart two-storey build­ing. they left faces taut, chests pushed out, try­ing to be strong. the killers did not dis­crim­i­nate on the grounds of colour. they killed ev­ery­one they could.

in the history of ev­ery great city there is usu­ally a mo­ment that causes the re­lent­less noise and bus­tle to cease tem­po­rar­ily. that hap­pened in Paris on June 14, 1940, as the pop­u­lace awaited the ar­rival of the vic­to­ri­ous ger­man army.

Some­thing sim­i­lar occurred again yes­ter­day as the French cap­i­tal — styled by is­lamic State as ‘the cap­i­tal of abom­i­na­tion and per­ver­sion’ — be­came the fo­cus of na­tional mourn­ing and na­tional emer­gency.

it was no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that a hush fell upon this me­trop­o­lis. Soul-search­ing — that gal­lic na­tional pas­time — has be­come ob­ses­sive. Most pre­ferred to do it in the com­fort and safety of home; no one knew who was still at large.

Dis­ney­land, cine­mas, shops, the­atres, mu­se­ums and the Christ­mas mar­ket, which opened on the Champs El­y­sees only last Wed­nes­day, stayed closed. the usu­ally hellish traf­fic in the his­toric cen­tre was quiet; Euro­pean tourists, who might have come for a week­end break, were sim­i­larly scarce.

Lo­cals said that they had never

‘This is our 9/11, our Pearl Har­bour’

seen it like this be­fore, save in that time of mid-Au­gust when most of the cap­i­tal heads for the beach or the coun­try­side.

in the area around the Rue Voltaire, where most of the at­tacks took place, a num­ber of streets were still sealed off.

On the Rue Richard Lenoir, bar­ri­ers had been erected by

se­cu­rity forces on ei­ther side of the Bat­a­clan cafe and con­cert hall.

Hun­dreds of can­dles had been placed against it, along with cards, flow­ers and pho­to­graphs, some ap­par­ently of vic­tims.

One was ded­i­cated to Guil­laume who ‘a perdu la vie’ — lost his life — dur­ing the at­tack on the Bat­a­clan.

There was the child’s draw­ing of a rain­bow. A plac­ard read ‘Vive le monde li­bre. Vive la France’ (Long live the free world. Long live France).

Every­where, you saw the slo­gan ‘Meme pas peur’ (Not afraid). It seems to have the same de­fi­ant res­o­nance for those af­fected by Fri­day’s at­tacks as ‘Je suis Char­lie’ achieved in the af­ter­math of Jan­uary’s Is­lamist out­rage in Paris.

Not all vic­tims of the at­tacks were in­jured. I met Florence Bataille, a psy­chol­o­gist, who was wait­ing out­side one of the main Parisian hos­pi­tals. She had vol­un­teered to help sur­vivors, and since Fri­day has coun­selled a num­ber of them.

‘I have met a num­ber who es­caped from the Bat­a­clan,’ she said. ‘They were not wounded, but they are also vic­tims.

‘Most are very shocked. They fear to be in the street, they can­not sleep and have night­mares. The prob­lem is many of them do not con­sider them­selves vic­tims and suf­fer alone. They feel lost.’

At the Ecole Mil­i­taire — be­ing used as the HQ of the army’s high­pro­file in­ter­ven­tion on the streets — open-backed lor­ries, from which squads of troops cradling as­sault ri­fles scanned the pave­ments, set off into Paris. It is some­thing I have seen in Kabul or Bagh­dad, never in the cen­tre of a west Euro­pean city.

Some Parisians called for just such an ag­gres­sive re­sponse.

A few hun­dred yards from the Bat­a­clan cor­don, in Rue Ni­co­las Ap­pert, stands the for­mer of­fices of the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Char­lie Hebdo.

It was here, in Jan­uary, that ji­hadists — broth­ers in car­nage to Fri­day’s as­sas­sins — be­gan a bloody ram­page that killed 17 jour­nal­ists, po­lice of­fi­cers and cus­tomers of a Jewish su­per­mar­ket.

In the street, I met a lo­cal res­i­dent, coach driver Jean Chard­cot, 55. He of­fered the most hawk­ish as­sess­ment of what had hap­pened and why. His back­ground, as an Is­raeli­born Jew who had mar­ried a French­woman af­ter serv­ing as a com­bat sol­dier in Le­banon, Gaza and the Golan Heights, had un­doubt­edly shaped this out­look.

‘The French are too nice and are very, very naive,’ he said. ‘They think they drop a few bombs and the prob­lem will go away.

‘But th­ese fa­nat­ics think that if they die they will go to Par­adise. They pos­i­tively like it! The French at­ti­tude goes back to the Revo­lu­tion and the idea of lib­erté, egal­ité and fra­ter­nité. Rad­i­cal Is­lam cares noth­ing for that.’

Satur­day night had been eerily quiet in the cen­tre of the city, with po­lice Tan­noys warn­ing crowds to dis­perse from the Place de la Republique ‘for your own safety’ in case they at­tracted fresh at­tack.

I went for din­ner in a bistro in the 7th dis­trict with my Parisian friend, Marco.

‘It feels like a dec­la­ra­tion of war on France as a whole,’ he told me. ‘This is our 9/11, our Pearl Har­bour.

‘They tar­geted young Parisians out hav­ing fun. They weren’t tourist hang-outs — they were where we go.’ So­ci­ety was split, he said. ‘It is no longer the (Great War bat­tle of) Ver­dun, lines against lines. This is a war on our streets. The worst is yet to come and the worst could hap­pen any­where.’

His words stay with me. As yes­ter­day’s glo­ri­ous, aw­ful af­ter­noon wore on to­wards a roseate sun­set, the crowds gath­ered at Notre Dame for a ser­vice of re­mem­brance. The flo­ral trib­utes along the bar­ri­ers on the Rue Richard Lenoir grew.

Speeches were be­ing made to a much larger gath­er­ing in the Place de la Republique. Strangers were hugged and Bea­tles’ songs sung.

The mood was in­tense and de­fi­ant. Paris and France it­self would not be de­feated. ‘Meme pas peur!’ said the ban­ners. But they were afraid. Just be­fore 6pm, loud noises from one side of the square caused the pan­icked, scream­ing flight of thou­sands. They thought it was gun­fire, but it turned out to be merely an­other false alarm.

Mean­while, the dread­ful pro­ces­sion at the Pont d’Auster­litz morgue con­tin­ues.

Given the num­bers of the dead, it will do so for sev­eral days to come.

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 ??  ?? United in grief: Thou­sands gath­ered out­side Notre Dame last night for a na­tional ser­vice of mourn­ing
United in grief: Thou­sands gath­ered out­side Notre Dame last night for a na­tional ser­vice of mourn­ing

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