Paris 13/11 – on Fear, Friendship and Human Flexibility

I was first hesitant to write this post as I don’t feel there is much more to add to everything that has been written about the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. I assume that not only my Facebook page, but everyone’s has been flooded by articles, pictures, videos and opinions of all kind. Mostly these are from people who like to express their compassion to everyone who was affected by the attacks, from people who want to show their grief or utter devastation. These are powerful reactions and show how much people care and love. They show how, when something devastating happens, people will always come together and fire back with love. Those reactions are amazing.


But a lot of the posts that flood our Facebook are also opinions about what should happen next, how the government should react, how the police should react, how the people should react and a lot of hate towards the people who caused these horrible events and even to people who didn’t. Some of them are well-written, by smart, knowledgeable people with a well-founded opinion and I advise you to read those articles. But thousands of them are written by people like you and me. And you and me have to admit that we don’t have enough knowledge about terrorism, the Syrian civil war, and proper governance to be spreading our ideas for everyone to read. You and me have to realize that it is often much smarter to keep our mouths shut and let the ones speak who have reason to speak. This does not mean I don’t want anyone to speak their mind or that I think they are not allowed to share their opinion, love and condolences. This means that I invite everyone to be critical about what they read, but also critical about what they write.

Anyway, all of this to say that I rather not start spreading my opinions about what happened on this blog. However, I have received tons of sweet, lovely and caring messages from friends, relatives and even acquaintances who were worried about me and who immediately wondered how me and my friends handled the situation and how it felt to be in Paris. Therefore, I will write down what I did on Friday and Saturday, just so those people know how it all feels for me. Obviously, I am in no way claiming that my experiences are comparable to other people’s experience, and I don’t mean to offend anyone who feels differently in any way. Finally, I would like to express my deepest compassion to everyone who lost someone (close or far) during these horrible attacks and say I’m so, so sorry for their devastating loss. I can’t imagine what it must feel like.

Friday night: I was excited on Friday night. Five of my friends were at that very moment heading for Paris, all of them crammed together in a small VW polo, in order to visit me for the weekend.

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They would be staying in a hostel close to my apartment and we had planned on going out that same night. I had put us on the guestlist of a club nearby and started to get ready: three bottles of wine, an equal amount of bags of chips, background music. Dressed up, make-up on, hair all done. They would arrive quiet late and I was ready pretty soon so I had some time to fill and began chatting on Facebook. A friend started talking to me: “There has been a shooting in Paris, are you okay?” Huh? A shooting? I answered that I didn’t know, but that I was fine and that I was waiting for the others to arrive. Immediately, I started browsing news-sites in order to discover what was up. As many people, we first didn’t really realize the immensity of the events that were happening at that very moment. I thought “hmm a shooting, okay then..” and when I saw on one of the news sites that it was advised to stay in-house I was like “Hmm.. what should we do now? Can we still go to the club?” I contacted my boyfriend and family to make sure they knew I was fine and I also got in contact with the girls, who just received the unfortunate news. Only slowly it began to down on us that the events were way more horrible than we could have ever imagined and that there was no way we were going out tonight, that we were less safe than we all thought. Fortunately, they arrived at their hostel rather easily (although they did pass the football stadion). We kept in contact, reading online news-sites the whole time and talking about what we should do. I took of my dress, washed my face and put the wine away. We fell asleep far too late and woke up way too early.

Saturday: On Saturday, the girls felt it was safe enough for them to walk from their hostel to my appartment. Despite what happened, they put their beautiful smiley faces on!

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Some of them were even in matching outfits!

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

They quickly arrived at my place and rang the doorbell (okay, not really, they called my phone since there is no doorbell).

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

I let them in of course and we catched up. We put on a news report and watched it together, sometimes in silence, sometimes with a lot of noise and sighs. Some of us were scared, some of us were saddened, angry or didn’t know what to do at all. All of our plans for the weekend were swiped away and we didn’t know what to do. Should we stay inside the whole day? Should we go visit things? Should they return home? After a while, we decided that it was best for them to return to Belgium in the evening, but that we would still try to do some things during the day. Staying longer seemed useless as every monument or attraction in Paris would be closed on Sunday, including Disneyland, where we were supposed to go. Also, most of their parents were worried and preferred them to come home.
So, we took a deep breath, put on our coats and decided to go for a quick bite in the neighborhood as all of us were hungry and we had not much food on hand. We ended up going to  ‘le Jockey‘, a restaurant that is super close to where I live, so we felt very safe going there. It was a very nice and modern restaurant and immediately, the atmosphere in our group seemed to change. We ordered food, wine and enjoyed our meal. It kind of felt ‘wrong’ to be laughing and eating like this, while other people were in so much pain. But it also felt just right to fight hatred with laughter and friendship. Yes, it was unbelievable how much we changed from feeling afraid and unsure to feeling comfortable and merry in the course of one meal. But it happened. So we decided to make the most of the day and try to put in some touristy attractions anyway. Some of us were rather scared on the metro, but all in all, everyone felt safe and sound given the circumstances.

I tried to lead my friend through the city as efficiently as possible (read: I used Google Maps instead of the map behind me) and they happily followed along, while J took most of the pictures.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

After climbing hundreds of steps, we arrived at our final destination.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

Le Sacré Coeur.

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And of course, the absolutely stunning view over Paris. It was hard to believe that this beautiful city was just struck by such terrifying events.

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As I said, the atmosphere had really changed in our group during the day. It is weird how flexible humans can be. One moment we are shocked and afraid and the other moment we adapt to the situation and life picks up as if it had never stopped. While our families and friends were worried and send us many messages full of concerns, we were laughing and having fun. Again, it felt wrong, though not wrong at all. Also, we felt quite safe thanks to the increased safety measures. Those guys looked tough.

Sacré coeur - Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

We did notice that there were a lot less people around than usual. While the stares before Sacré Coeur are usually packed, now it seemed there was only 1/10th of the people. But there were still people. Who, just like us, tried to make the most of their day.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

You can spot me and A, with matching white shoes, trying to figure out which buildings we were looking at.

We even took time for a little photoshoot. First together.

Sacré Coeur - Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Sacré Coeur - Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

Then it was C’s turn.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

And next up was J.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

We got it into our heads that the best way to model is by hopping around the whole time. So everyone hopped and skipped around, believing that this would create the best pic. Seeing the pictures above compared to the one below, I guess it wasn’t the best tactic.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

Hair in the air like she don’t care

Our jump-pictures were also a big fail.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

J was the only one who managed to get it right.

In the end, we stopped hopping and jumping and managed to make some more decent pictures.

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The babies from ’93

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And the oldies! 😉

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

Sacré coeur - Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

And a proper group picture in the end.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

After strolling around Sacré Coeur and Montmartre (a lot less artists than usual also) we decided to walk further down, to Moulin Rouge and to have a drink.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

We had horrible cocktails but a very good time. The city felt weird, but the friendship felt just right. Finally, we ended our day at an Italian restaurent, where we had to enter through a side door, upon which we immediately wondered if this was a safety measure. The restaurant was rather empty as well, so the staff could give their full attention to us.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

“Hmmm what shall I decide?”

We ordered wine and pizza and enjoyed the last of our time together.

Paris 13/11 - on fear, friendship and human flexibility - http://www.thisisb.be

Afterwards, we returned to the girls’ hostel where they packed their stuff. We said our goodbyes at around 11 o’clock, upon which I returned to my apartment and they to Belgium. It’s such a pitty that they had to return early because it could have been a fantastic weekend. But of course, our first-world-problems are nothing compared to what others are suffering through at the moment.

As for how I’m feeling now: Paris feels quite safe to me. I know this feeling might or might not be correct, but it is just how I feel, I can’t help it. I do notice that safety measures are increased (armed forces in the metro stations and I had to show my bag before I entered the supermarket) but I also have this weird ‘life goes on’ feeling.
It felt very sereen and emotional to have a 1 minute of silence moment today at university, and I know many of my friends feel way more sad, angry or afraid than I do. This is of course just my little story.

xx B