City of Two Tales: Panic in Paris but Defiance Wins Day

The two scenes, shortly before 7pm, vividly illustrated the twin reactions to Friday\'s terror in this city on the edge: panic - and defiance.

Published: 16th November 2015 10:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th November 2015 10:09 AM   |  A+A-

In one corner of Paris, they filed solemnly into church. In another, they scrambled for cover.

Just as thousands of Parisians were calmly gathering last night (Sunday night) at Notre Dame for a special mass in memory of Friday's victims, fresh hysteria filled the Place de la Republique as gunshots were reported. It later transpired they were a false alarm.

The two scenes, shortly before 7pm, vividly illustrated the twin reactions to Friday's terror in this city on the edge: panic - and defiance.

In the square, one man hid in a cellar while a television reporter making a live broadcast dived for shelter behind a van; police evacuated the area, helicopters whirred overhead.

At the cathedral, everybody's bag was searched and jittery gendarmes patrolled the grounds with guns, muttering into walkie talkies. But the service went on, the heat of hundreds of candles warming up the front row.

Notre Dame's pews were full and 3,000 more worshippers had to stand outside as the capital came together to remember its dead, and to sing in their name. "Bind us together in the peace of your love, O Lord," the 1,500-strong congregation inside intoned as the choir processed towards the altar in their purple robes, followed by Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris.

Outside, the crowd sang, too. The 13-ton bell of the south tower, which usually sounds only for Christmas and other major holidays, rang out.

Then the Archbishop, hands clasped in prayer, addressed the topic on everybody's minds:

"As we face this blind barbarism, each breach of our firm convictions will be a victory for our aggressors," he said.

"Trust in the human being and his dignity is the only way to respond to savagery. The Lord's greatness is not shown by beheading people but by working towards the respect of humanity."

It was a message his congregation - and many thousands more Parisians - had already taken to heart.

Two hours before the mass, hundreds were already queueing outside Notre Dame.

Marie Francoise, 72, had one foot in a cast after an operation but still made the two-hour round bus journey to the cathedral, to stand in line. "When I saw those images on TV, I knew I had to go out," she said.

"This is an exceptional day." She had been particularly shocked to see the number of young people shot dead while enjoying a rock concert at the Bataclan music venue. "I had a fall in 2007 but I survived," she said. "It is not right for young people to be dying." Patricia Pettitt, whose son's girlfriend is still in hospital recovering from the Bataclan attack, came to pray, too.

Born in Northampton, she has lived here 40 years and considers herself a Parisian. "We are angry," she said. "But we cannot do anything about it. I go [to church] every Sunday. But it is special today because of all the people who have died." Valerie Carteron usually only comes to Notre Dame at Christmas, but she made an exception yesterday.

"Notre Dame is Paris," said the 50-year-old lawyer. "I am very proud to be here. I am here to think of the families of the young people who just wanted to dance, who just wanted to have fun." She said that she and other Parisians would have to take extra care, "but we have to live".

Mrs Carteron did not think twice about attending the mass. "I thought it was important for us to be very numerous here," she said. "It is a way to say to Isil that the French people are here and you are not going to win." The same spirit of determination was evident across the city yesterday.

As a banner outside one of the restaurants targeted in Friday night's attacks put it, in French: "Against extremism, Paris is united in life." Yesterday morning, an 80-year-old woman ordered "my regular petit dejeuner" at a city centre cafe with her husband as they had done most weekends for the last 30 years.

"I have no fear," said Marie-Eve, a retired teacher, with a hint of a Gallic shrug. "Not a bit." Like thousands of her countrymen, she had ignored advice to stay indoors in the aftermath of the attacks, instead moving about the city as usual.

"Otherwise it means they [the terrorists] are the masters and we just lie down before them," she explained. "We have to say, 'you've done that, but we will win'. We have to." Everywhere one walked, Parisians were reprising their routines. A young man in lycra and trainers pounded along the pavement as his iPod blared dance music, a group of women stood outside a cafe to smoke and drink espresso and a thirtysomething couple linked arms, the woman eating the last of a croissant as she walked.

"Salut!" a man shouted, spotting a neighbour. "A ca va?" Such everyday interaction was carried out without any of the usual jollity: nobody laughed or smiled. Most looked down at the ground or stared into middle distance, serious about doing whatever it is they usually do. Streets filled with people were eerily silent.

The happenstance of a lazy Sunday had been replaced by thousands of deliberate acts of defiance. We will go on, each action insisted.

A 60-year-old woman who has lived here since 1975 put on shorts and a t-shirt to go for her normal Sunday run.

"Life doesn't stop," said the jogger, Corinne Bolnes. "We must resist. We have to. It is not a normal day so we have to act like it is a normal day." Opposite her, a man walking his Jack Russells explained that, for him, carrying on was less about resistance than finding comfort in everyday activities.

Eric Lafontaine, an architect who lives just a street away from two of the restaurants that were struck, picked out his clothes with extra care yesterday morning.

"Everlast," the logo on his sweater declared.

He was out on Friday night when the attacks began. A friend called him immediately, inviting him to his house, where he made couscous. Together they tried to take in what had happened.

Now, he wheeled a trolley to a local shop to stock up on vegetables. "I don't want fear to grip me," he said. "If I think about it, I would stay still so I block it out." Outside Le Carillon restaurant, scene of one of the attacks, someone had turned the bullet holes that still scar the facade into a flower stand, threading a carnation through the glass.

No tape blocked the pavement in front, yet everyone stood a respectful five paces back, locals occasionally moving forward briefly to add a bouquet or a tealight to the hundreds already there.

Together with the five other attack sites, the restaurant formed a new pilgrimage route across the city as hundreds of Parisians retraced the terrorists' steps to these impromptu shrines, this time not with hatred but compassion.

Outside the Bataclan, they stood three deep, queuing up to light candles.

The nearest florist had run out of roses, so they brought anything they could lay their hands on: a scrap of paper on which to scrawl a message of defiance, or a bottle of beer to declare that the partying would go on.

One 79-year-old woman had torn a map of the attacks from the pages of her morning newspaper. She would normally spend her Sunday browsing a museum or two, but instead she resolved to walk past every spot where a Parisian had perished.

"We can do nothing now but we can pray," explained the woman, a retired bank clerk called Anne-Marie, who has lived in this city her entire life.

"I look at all these remembrances and I pray.

"We don't understand what happened, we can't understand. But when we see the flowers, the candles, all the love here, that is something, at least." She has lived through riots here and saw bloody clashes and "streets burning" during the summer of '68, but nothing compared to what she has witnessed this weekend. "This is different," she said. "There are more tears now." Danielle Bourse, 51, who lives close to the offices of Charlie Hebdo, had also come to the Bataclan, bringing a single pink flower to lay in front of the steel barriers. She, too, would go to the other attack sites, and lay a flower at each.

Mrs Bourse grieved for her city but most of all she dreaded returning to work on Monday. She is a dinner lady at a city school where the youngest pupils are three, and feared that many of the parents would not yet have spoken to their children about Friday night.

"The children will ask me a lot of questions," she said. "They will want to know why it happened." What will she till them?

"Ah," she said, with a sigh. "*Ca c'est toute la question*."

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