‘We Stand, Speechless In Fear, Staring At A War Scene’ – Surviving The Paris Attacks

Catherine Durand, Associate Editor at Marie Claire France, witnessed the Paris attacks which killed 129, and injured hundreds. This is her story.

Two women sob outside Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, following the attacks

‘Friday the 13th is nice for the month of November. As per usual at the end of the week, I head to Au Quai – a wine bar owned by my friend Alain Hing – two steps from Canal Saint-Martin, in the popular area of the 10th arrondissement. The heated terrasses outside the neighbouring Le Petit Cambodge restaurant and the Carillon café are full of people. They’re young, trendy, happy.

By 9:20pm, I’m enjoying an excellent Beaujolais wine with my editor friend Veronique Girard, when a deafening noise makes us freeze. ‘It’s firecrackers,’ say the other customers. But I immediately think of gunfire. A round of shots, then another, then another. It seems to go on forever. Alain goes to see what’s happening, but hastily comes back, yelling ‘Catherine, call the police, people are dead!’

I go outside. In front of the Carillon, in the midst of fallen chairs and shards of glass, there are bodies lying on the pavement. There, where a few minutes earlier people were downing a beer, sneaking a cigarette, chatting, laughing, there’s now an eery silence.

We stand, speechless in fear and shock, staring at a war scene. Slowly, sound comes back. I hear screams, and a man sobbing. Two firemen arrive. We hear that the attackers, in their black car, are killing more with machine guns at other cafés. Texts bring us news that bombs have exploded at the Stade de France. It’s war, and I have only one thing on my mind – protecting my son, Marty. I don’t want him to take the métro on his way home from college, where he’s been rehearsing for a play. I call his father and ask him to go look for him in a taxi. Then police officers arrive on the scene, filling the street, shouting orders. We help with getting the first few injured people out, before retreating into the bar, where we lose all sense of time. Fixed to our phones, we reassure our loved ones and we follow with horror the events shedding blood all over Paris.

For the rest of the weekend, Alain Hing closed his bar ‘out of respect for the victims’, but we swore that next Friday, we’ll be back, catching-up over a good bottle of wine. Because we refuse to give in to fear. Because we – the French and the Parisians – are fiercely attached to our freedom and republican values.

Why have extremists struck fear into the heart of the 10th arrondissement, where I’ve lived for 25 years? According to Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, ‘The areas which were attacked – the places that were targeted – are the places that we love, in the Paris that we love. The Paris of the people. The Paris that’s free. Our way of living together is intolerable to fanatics, because they want to reduce all of humanity into silence.’

But no, we won’t be silent at Marie Claire, where we have never stopped defending the hard-won freedom of women. No we will continue to defend our freedom to think, to love, to live.’

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