This oft-repeated question occupies the hearts and minds of every Parisian, struggling to make sense of this unfathomable act. In the wake of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, memorial services have been held and moments of silence observed, tearful prayers and somber songs fill the once vibrant ambience of the city.
A far cry from the Paris I know and love.
On Sunday, at Le Carillon, a woman sits cross-legged in front of the restaurant lighting candles. Her hands tremble as she carefully picks up and lights candles one-by-one, placing them on the sidewalk. The overrun of bleu, blanc and rouge candle wax, left behind by mourners of the night before, mottle the cold drab gray of the pavement. Overcome with grief, she can continue no longer and wails ‘pourquoi, pourqoui!’, but to no avail; her pain is palpable, piercing the somber silence on a beautiful sunny day.
As the amber hue of evening’s light gives way to solemn night, children kneel a few meters away from the visage of broken glass of the bullet hole riddled restaurant front of Casa Nostra, writing messages of hope and peace on large pieces of varicolored construction paper, under the watchful and plaintive guise of their parents.
At Place de la République, late on Sunday evening, frightened screams and heightened fear arise when the square is evacuated in a dire panic. Armed policeman quickly command the scene, news reporters and photographers take cover behind trees and slowly creep forward to document each tense moment, while hundreds of frantic people have scattered, holed up in restaurants, bars, behind news vans, uncertain of their fate. The air is thick with tension, shouts and screams. It seems terror’s ugly face has surfaced once again.
But it’s a false alarm; only a firecracker inadvertently set off, a passerby reassures me. Within half-an-hour, the square fills with seemingly more people, singing songs and conducting interviews with various news crews. Huddled around Marianne—the personified statue and national symbol of French republicanism—candles are relit, flowers rearranged and people gather once again in thoughtful reflection.
No one skipped a beat.
Though the painful question of why these attacks occurred will linger and be debated for some time, the principles of liberté, égalité, and fraternité and why they need to be defended and upheld has already been answered. Sunday reaffirmed what we already knew.
The City of Light will never go out.
Photos: Jerry Leon
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