‘We must remain calm and refuse to hide’, says Parisiens after attacks

Emotions are running high in the capital and expressions of love and hope must do battle with calls for a policy U-turn and a closing off of borders, writes Europe Correspondent Ann Cahill in Paris
‘We must remain calm and refuse to hide’, says Parisiens after attacks

The moment you climb the steps from the metro and come out in the centre of Place de la Republic, you know something is different.

The faces are drawn. There is a choir of sorts responding to the needs of the myriad TV cameras moving from the anthem to Champs-Elysées to John Lennon’s Imagine.

A sole figure is attaching flowers to the bronze reliefs on the monument, a flag draped over his shoulders. The home-made posters are all about love and peace.

“Paris is love”. “Love is our Resistance”.

A group of five friends are holding signs in French and English aloft “cârlins gratuit” — “free hugs”. Those who avail of them hug tight, many on the verge of tears, others smiling like old friends.

It’s more like a scene from the 1970s of love and peace and ban the bomb. Even the Peace for Paris emblem of the Eiffel tower inside a circle harkens back to the days of “give peace a chance”.

But just before the bells were due to ring out, starting at the Cathedral Notre Dame just a few metro stops away, something like shots were heard. As some grabbed children and began to run, panic gripped as though oxygen had been sucked out of the air.

Some dived for cover, some ran into open restaurants.

The police lining the square in flac jackets quickly drew their guns. But within a short time word went out that it was no more than fire crackers, and people gingerly came back into the centre of the square again.

The posters declaring Je Suis Charlie are still atop the monument marking the most fervent part of the French national identity — their republic. Nobody has climbed high enough yet to put posters marking the latest atrocity along side them.

The most defiant is one that declares “même pas peur”, not afraid.

Jean Baptist and his friends were still offering free hugs. “We got the idea just after lunch and we decided to do it straight away, because Paris is love”, he said.

But very close by is the Bataclan concert hall with a carpet of flowers and candles, people transfixed by the sight as the dusk makes them more visible. One young girl is sobbing into her mother’s shoulder, her father beside them, panic and grief in his face. She was one of the lucky ones that escaped death.

The city’s theatres and museum’s are all closed giving a strange feel to the city that offers romance and art and another world to visitors and locals alike.

Alex MacDougald who has lived in France for the past 20 years, and his partner Aymee Turner said he was shocked after he took a bus into the city from Charles de Gaulle airport to find the place dead. “There was nobody about”.

The crowds thronging the usual meeting places were a relief. “It’s very emotional to see people not giving in to what is happening, giving it the two fingers as it were”, he said.

It is quite different to the response after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. “This time it feels a lot more personal, because people were living their life and were killed for no reason”.

Camille Bonnet tries to make sense of it also. The targets were journalists in the Charlie Hebdo shootings, “but this time the it could be everybody having a drink, eating dinner, out of the evening”.

He lives just 25 metres from La Belle Équipe restaurant where 19 people were shot dead on Friday night. He wants to see the place full of people again. “It should not be any different, everybody wants to go on with their normal lives”.

But he describes as “shameful” the statements of opposition party leader and former president, Sarkozy and National Front leaders Marine Le Pen, calling for a new foreign policy and shutting borders.

“Even if they disagree with the government they should stand together just to make us united — if they are not, people will be divided”.

A long and wide orderly line of people slowly enter the huge, 600 year old Notre-Dame cathedral. Polite security peer into everyone’s bag, media are ushered in quickly, people take their places — thousands.

Among their number is Elizabeth Laurence, a classical singer and resident of Paris for some time, explains that in her local church, not far from where many of the atrocities happened, the priest asked that there be no revenge.

The music from tone of the world’s biggest organ’s grows every more strong, loud and insistent. It’s a relief when the crystal voice of a soprano cuts through with sweet, clear notes to the relief of the many hundreds seated inside.

The colours of the republic flow down the huge stone column beside the altar, beamed by huge lights. The home of the Archbishop of Paris, Andre Vingt-Trois, his voice at times competes with the sirens of police cars crossing the Seine.

While his sermon is one of mercy and hope, the readings are tough, the Catholic Church not budging from its doctrine. “There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since national first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book.”

Cardinal Vingt-Trois says the readings are “a desperate cry for hope”.

“Decapitating people is not the way to go. We have to have respect for human life. We recognise how to cope with death by remaining calm and refusing to hide. Our existence is marked by death — no faith of any kind that can take away from us”.

Emotions are running high in the capital and expressions of love and hope must do battle with calls for a policy U-turn and a closing off of borders, writes Europe Correspondent Ann Cahill in Paris

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