When I first learned about the Paris attacks a week ago, my immediate reaction was: “here we go again.”
We found out about the attacks when my sister-in-law called me on my cell. My husband, Ruben, and I were cleaning up our kitchen following a very quiet Shabbat dinner with guests visiting from Israel. When I answered the phone, there was panic in my sister-in-law’s voice and she explained that there were attacks all around us in the 11th Arrondissemont. She was scared for our safety since we live very close to the attacks, and we could have easily been caught in the fire.
Still calm, Ruben and I began to watch the news. It took us some time to understand what was going on since we were watching real time news. I was not feeling shocked by what was going on, but everything felt familiar. It was just 11 months since the last terrorist attacks in Paris, and the incident at the Hypercacher was in our old neighborhood. Plus, I witnessed 9/11 unfold with my own eyes and I lived many years in Israel. Terrorism is something that has been a part of my diverse life experiences.
The immediate days following the attacks the energy in the streets was somber. Very few people were out in our neighborhood or elsewhere. The following morning, we had a pleasant Saturday brunch with Ruben’s family that seemed more meaningful than usual. We were all happy that we were safe. Saturday night, Ruben and I took a walk to visit the different attack sites. We both needed fresh air and we wanted to feel more connected to what had happened. Plus, I was feeling courageous. Ruben was not comfortable with us being close to the attack sites. He felt it was too soon to be so curious as the bodies were still being removed from the concert hall. I, on the other hand, was so eager to get up close to see and feel everything, and document it. As I got close to each attack site, he kept his distance and watched me. I did not feel fearful, but alive and super thankful. Even Ruben and I felt closer and more connected.
But my mood began to slowly change as Monday came around and it was time to return to the “normal” life. My normal daily routine begins with riding the metro, which I was not comfortable with. I dismissed my concern and chose to be practical and strong. I was a bit nervous about being outside, but I thought the feeling would go away. When Tuesday came I felt bad after reading an article about the people who were killed. I decided to avoid such articles for now. As I reached Wednesday, I started to sense that I was anxious. A feeling that I also dismissed since I felt that it did not make sense for me to be anxious. I felt that since I had been through this so often that, I should be able to handle this. But I was wrong; you don’t get use to such things.
While digesting the attacks was doable, figuring how to stay safe had proven to be difficult. My entire thought process was focused on the safety measures I could take wherever I went. Before even leaving the house each morning, I would decide not to take a book to read so that I would stay alert and aware of my surroundings. Then, once in the Metro station, I would ask myself is it better to be in the first or last car if there is an attack? I would actually have a discussion with myself about the pros and cons of being in the different cars during an attack. These thoughts repeated themselves each day.
Once on the train, I would look at everyone eye to eye. I smiled. Sometimes people smiled back most of the other times they looked away. I observed everyone and everything. The atmosphere seemed tense. I would look to see where on the train I could hide…nowhere. Under a seat maybe? Could I play dead on the train…would that work? I would look for the emergency button by each train door. I asked myself, would the train stop if I pulled it and would the doors automatically open? What if they don’t open?…we’re screwed. By Friday, I actually thought about pulling the emergency lever to find out what would happen. I could explain to the authorities that I wanted to see how it worked and even if it does work in the case of a problem. I don’t think people would have appreciated a false alarm during this period. I also hope I am not that crazy to pull it for my own personal satisfaction.
I need to explain, there is no security whatsoever throughout the Paris Metro system. You are lucky if you will see a police officer anywhere in the station or on the train. Only the first few days after the attacks I saw military officers in the Metro, but only in my neighborhood. They are all gone now. The lack of security in the Metro system is not a fact that I just became hypersensitive about, I’ve been aware of this issue since I moved to Paris 2.5 years ago. But, in the beginning this fact just annoyed me. I thought about it as irresponsible and simply stupid. When I learned that there was once an attack in the Metro system, I was shocked. What’s wrong with the French government? How can such a city like Paris not have a secure Metro system?
By the way, I witness almost every day petty crimes – in the style of jumping turnstiles – committed throughout the Metro system by the most mundane people. It’s like I am reliving 1990’s NYC. Once a young trendy looking, college aged girl walked up to me and kindly asked if she could share my metro ticket with me so she would not have to pay. I looked at her in shock and said “no!” with the undertone of “are you fucken serious!” What happen to French etiquette? What?!…It only applies to greetings, drinking wine, and how you hold your utensils? Oh, and how to cut the hedges, of course. Now, after my second round of Paris terrorism, I am simply scared of being on the Metro.
Then there are my new safety concerns thanks to last week’s attacks. Sitting in a restaurant and staying safe has taken on new meaning. Before, I would think about my security when I went to a kosher restaurant, but now it happens with every restaurant, cafe, or public venue. This week, I met a friend at the Opera House stairs – one of Paris’s must adored landmarks. When I got there, I realized that the usual crowd of tourists, lunchers and musicians were missing. People were simply afraid to be outside. I sat down on the practically empty stairs among another 5 people and waited. I realized at that moment as my butt hit the cold stone stairs, that I was an easy target and that maybe I should take the dissolute atmosphere as a message to stay indoors. But, I wanted to be strong and not let my anxieties get the best of me. Life needs to go on. Then I rationalized, something I learned from my time in Israel, terrorists would not attack now when there is heightened security. They’ll wait. Amazing how we all think we know what terrorists are thinking.
Ruben and I have actually gone out a lot this week and while we both think about safety, we want to be strong and support local business. They will suffer greatly from all of this. We share this sentiment with many other Parisians and have been happy to see that many restaurants have customers, but it’s not the usual vibe. It will take time to return to that carefree feeling that we all love.
It’s been a tiring week keeping up with all my thoughts and strategies on how to stay safe in a City that doesn’t even offer basic security to its citizens. But, even if they did I cannot help myself from wondering if it would really make a difference? Regardless, life is short and very precious, and it’s important to not waste it on fear. So, I struggle with finding that balance between being happy and productive, but safe too. I think next week I will depend on my bike to get around and avoid the anxieties that the Paris Metro stirs within me. I won’t stop going to cafes, but maybe I will avoid sitting outside.
On that note, I wish each of you peace wherever you are: France, Germany, England, Russia, USA, Africa, and the Middle East… I could go on, but I believe you each get my point.