Today's blog post was going to be a cute little piece about the beginning of the winter sale season in Paris. Instead it's a post about France's worst terrorist attack in years. Just a week into our arrival in France.
This morning my husband and I started our day off late, sleeping in with the kids and taking our time getting ready to head out. Our plan was to have lunch at a gluten free restaurant in the 6th, then visit Eiffel Tower with the kids, and then explore a few potential residential neighbourhoods. We left the house around 1pm, after the murders had taken place, but oblivious to the situation that had taken place earlier in Paris. My first indication that something was wrong was when I saw one of the Metro notice boards that alerts travellers to potential delays on the metro. It indicated that a particular stop was blocked off due to a security concern.
When we realized that the metro train heading in the direction we needed to go was not running, we took a cab into Paris instead. It was only when we stepped out onto Place St Michel and I pulled up Paris on Google to search for a particular address, that I came across the headline about a terrorist attack in Paris. I had to read it three times and double check the date before it sunk in that it wasn't an old article. That not far from where I was standing a massacre had taken place a short time before.
Gunmen had broken into the offices at Charlie Hebdo, a magazine famous for its satire and for courting controversy. They apparently arrived during their editorial meeting, and singled out staff members by name, killing them on the spot. 12 dead, including 2 police officers, and several others injured. The killing of one police officer occurred on the street after the terrorists left the offices, and was caught on video. The magazine's staff had been targeted for recent cartoons concerning Islam. The terrorists claimed to be avenging the Prophet.
Suddenly, I heard the sirens. They were everywhere. Incessant. That unmistakable sound of European first responder sirens that somehow seems louder and more piercing than the ones I'm used to in Canada. Ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars sped by, in groups of 5, 6, 7.
Still, if you didn't know better, you might think there was a large fire somewhere, or a horrific accident. There wasn't any panic in the heart of the city, and the streets were full. We walked across to Notre Dame and let the kids play in the park behind the church. The line-up to get in was too long for the little one to wait in, so we agreed to come back another day. We didn't think trying to go up the tower was a good idea, so we decided to stick close to the Latin Quarter and then grab lunch.
We walked up to the bridge covered in thousands upon thousands of love-locks, groaning under the weight of all those tiny expressions of eternal love. I have to admit, I'm not a fan of the locks in general, particularly since the weight of them has already caused one bridge in Paris to collapse. However, I can't deny the beauty in all those displays of love, particularly in the wake of what happened today.
The terrorists sought to silence those who they saw as being the enemy: journalists, cartoonists, satirists who made a living poking fun at controversial and timely topics. The staff at Charlie Hebdo sought to laugh in the face of fear. To find the absurd or the comical in difficult situations and serious topics. They weren't oblivious to the danger they faced, and yet they carried on with their work despite continued threats of violence.
Today those threats became reality. Gunned down in the very place they exercised their fundamental rights as citizens and as journalists. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press.
In a video taken by a witness, one of the terrorists could be heard yelling in French that they killed Charlie Hebdo.
He was wrong.
What they did was exactly what we've seen recently around the world, most recently in Australia and in my native country, Canada: the terrorists brought the country together. Reinforced the need to defend those fundamental rights the terrorists sought to destroy.
By early evening, thousands were gathering in public squares in Paris, Toulouse, Lyon, and countless other cities in France. Then news started coming in about similar shows of support in other countries, including Germany and England. Regular people, taking to the streets with pens raised to the sky in a show of both defiance and sadness. A show of solidarity.
The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie or #IamCharlie was taking over Twitter and Instagram as the day wore on. A steady stream of cartoons depicting the failure of the terrorists to silence free speech. It seems that with the loss of one group of journalists and political cartoonists today, thousands more have been inspired to put pen to paper and continue the legacy of those who were gunned down.
On a personal level, I'm completely saddened first and foremost at the loss of life, but also at the loss of so many brilliant minds and voices that brought a different perspective to current events. So many families lost loves ones today, and that breaks my heart most of all. It's a sobering reminder that anything can happen at any time, and that none of our freedoms can be taken for granted. I am not French, but I don't think I have to be to feel deeply saddened by what happened today. Tomorrow is a national day of mourning, with a moment of silence planned for midday. I know that my family will take a moment to honour those lost today.