What’s In Your head as you visit Paris after the tragic events of 13/11?

By 23rd November 2015 What's in your... One Comment

I was in Paris last week with my colleague, Julia, for the Esomar Sensory Forum 2015. Given the tragic events of 13th November in Paris, there was some hesitation (from colleagues and family) over the wisdom of traveling to Paris to attend the event, especially given that our accommodation was within the targeted area, but, in these situations it is important not to give in, and we are so glad we didn’t.

> at a professional level, we got a lot out of attending the Sensory Forum, but more on that later in the week.

> at a personal level, it was an interesting, thought-provoking and humbling time to visit Paris, being amidst a people whose very culture, lifestyle and values had been (so randomly) attacked just days beforehand.

We therefore felt it was important to join the resilience that was driving Parisians to go about their lives as normal, taking the metro, visiting museums and monuments, eating in the brasseries and even sitting on terraces (given how unusually mild it was too). It was also only natural to want to go out amongst the tributes, being paid in flowers, candles, words, pictures and songs, to the many (and mostly young) people who lost their lives.

A few days after the attacks, people were flocking to Placa de la Republique to pay tribute to those who were killed or injured in the attacks

A few days after the attacks, people were flocking to Place de la Republique to pay tribute to those who were killed or injured in the attacks

 

What was most striking when visiting the epicentre of these tributes, at Place de la République, was seeing all the different ‘tribes’ of people with their different purposes, and with differing levels of emotional involvement – the Journalists on a mission to report, the Visiting Public wanting to be there in the moment, the tooled-up French Police there to protect, and (last, but crucially) the Local Grieving Parisians quietly suffering their own very personal distress – almost oblivious to each other, and yet all with that one common link.

Even the statues on high at Placa de la Republique had their word

Even the statues on high at Placa de la Republique had their word

In detail…

>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

TRIBE 1 : THE CARAVANSERAI OF JOURNALISTS camped out around the square were not being disrespectful but there was undoubtedly also a sense of almost purposefulness, even eagerness, as they went about filing their reports…

Press everywhere you turned

Press everywhere you turned

…a supporting sea of white vans with satellite dishes above and those wires stretching out below and across the square, leaking down into the approaching roads, reminiscent of any high-profile public event, whether good or bad

caravanserai white vans

…the individual groups of TV crews (technician, producer and interviewer), sheltered under umbrellas, clad in ‘Autumn-in-Paris’ uniforms of smart macintosh coats and heavy footwear even Ugg boots, gathered under their own gazebos, together with their heavyweight equipment, all waiting a bit disconsolately in the damp, rather self-consciously discussing and practising words from little black books (as if for a part in a film) until, as a burst of new news came through (which happened whilst I was there, i think the news that the 3rd person had been identified from under the rubble at the shoot-out in Saint-Denis), you could see and hear them all jumping eagerly to their microphones, macintoshes off, and a ricochet turned quickly into a crescendo of voices (mainly in English even if not themselves English, but also a polyglot of languages), as pressing reports were made ‘live from Place de la Republique’.

Reports in, reports out...

Reports in, reports out…

reporter

IMG_3491

>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

TRIBE 2 : VISITING PUBLIC, namely tourists and other visiting foreigners (like me), voyeurs who (I’m sure) also wanted to be respectful, but inevitably more detached than the locals, and (in my opinion) sometimes not getting it right…

interested to be there for themselves, in the moment, to observe and memorise all the flowers, all the hand-written messages and hand-drawn pictures on A4 paper going soggy in the rain (even the ones in plastic covers), the tealights burning and others that had burned out, some of which were being gathered up (as I watched) and discarded into big plastic bags by individuals and couples, to make new room for new candles to be lit as tributes;

#UneBougiePourParis

#UneBougiePourParis


Hand-drawn by an 11-year old girl

Hand-drawn by an 11-year old girl

 

…but it was appalling how many were thrusting forward their phones to take tonnes of i-photographs of anything and everything they could, driven it seemed by some self-issued Insta-licence to gather the best visual currency that they could spend on their social media Followers, but so intrusive (it seemed to me). I even wondered if everyone was taking this whole display seriously, such as the couple who sat (even) in the drizzling rain having a picnic on a bench in the square, drinking a bottle of wine, and the two young guys just strumming guitars in some studiedly Woodstock fashion, as though waiting to be discovered ( – perhaps unfair?);

I do understand the desire to record, but it seemed to devalue the intent. And yes, I was a culprit too, except my moral compromise was to photographing all the peripheral activity and much less on the tributes themselves.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

TRIBE 3 : THE POLICE, looking only as the French police can look ie. the butch ‘don’t mess with me’ look…

with heavy weaponry, dispassionately lined up outside the metro and shepherding people to avoid the barricades around the Bataclan theatre.

but within a day or two they already seemed less obtrusive than I expected and one actually smiled at me!

La Police

La Police

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

TRIBE 4 : Last, often the least conspicuous, but most importantly of all amongst all the others, the Local Parisians… 

…who, young and old, were quietly distressed as they weaved in and out of everyone else;

…the older lady dabbing her eyes discretely with a small hankie was most memorable and poignant to me (having just said to me how the ‘boulot’ -the people who work- had been affected most by this)

…the young woman laying flowers, although I’m not so sure about the guy I saw do this, who, after very sadly laying his candle, then proceeded to draw out his enormous camera to photograph the candle he’d just left (?).

laying flowers in the rain

laying flowers in the rain

people in the streets carrying flowers presumably destined for the ‘official shrines’; our AirBnB host who lived just a street away from the Bataclan, he too had his flowers bought, ready to take to the wall of homage. 

Look to the sky

Look to the sky

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Yet, beyond these tribes and tribute sites, there was also the impact on local life that we were interested to witness and observe; local shops, cafés, restaurants and other businesses, locals in the streets and on public transport, doing their best to go about daily life as normal, and yet of course it wasn’t normal…

Life carries on, but it's changed.

Life carries on

atmosphere quite clearly subdued an air of tristesse, and yet at the same time one of defiance and of résilience from being determined ‘to get on with it’ (- to me, less overtly expressed than the British ‘stiff-upper-lip’, but undoubtedly expressed by everyone I spoke to albeit missed by my not-fluent-enough French).

Paris' motto 'FLUCTUAT NEC MERGITUR' ('Tossed by waves, but not sunk') painted up again in 10th arrondissement near some of the attacks

Paris’ motto ‘FLUCTUAT NEC MERGITUR’ (‘Tossed by waves, but not sunk’) painted up again in 10th arrondissement near some of the attacks

…on the metro, by Wednesday morning anyway, as crowded as ever, but with a silence reigning, in part down to heads in smartphones (the status quo these days, and yet more than usual to avoid catching eye of foreigners?). And yet, I couldn’t help but feel that the more notorious (even once snobbish, certainly oft unhelpful) Parisien guard more down as they opened up to speak to foreigners such as me – I was offered a seat, and even twice offered help with my bags by locals!

security messages now in English and German as well as French.

some restaurants closed, others quite empty, but some doing well, on their terraces too – which was a specific initiative a few days after the attacks, in protest at the threat of their freedom to do so, but all the same.

#JeSuisEnTerrasse

#JeSuisEnTerrasse

… and later on in the evening, we noticed a lot of young people gathered outside bars, a sign that all was well and back to normal, although perhaps as much or more due to it being an unusually mild November, plus (a big nation of) smokers needing to smoke outside?

Graffitti had already poignantly touched the local streets:

meme pas mal

“It didn’t hurt”


graffiti posters

“Paris still standing”


graffiti posters

“Paris still standing”


graffiti posters

graffiti next to some of the metal notice-boards awaiting posters for the imminent election, but Parisians saying to me how they doubted any of their politicians would crack it

…and on Beaujolais Nouveau day (19th November), restaurants and bars were very low-key in presenting this big (albeit ever slightly lesser) annual occasion – and rather than the usual parties and fireworks, I doubted very much whether the jazz band programmed to play in our street that evening would turn up at all. Although perhaps they did, because after I got back to London, I heard on BBC Radio 4 that young people had been out singing very old Jacques Brel songs in bars as a vote of solidarity and Frenchness.

A good year for Beaujolais Nouveau, but mixed feelings about how or whether to celebrate it.

A good year for Beaujolais Nouveau, but mixed feelings about how or whether to celebrate it.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

In more touristy shops, a clear lack of trade – although for some like me, a plus, as for example I could even get a seat in the trendy ‘Merci’ concept design store library’s café!

…An unexpected side-effect too for camera shops, I noticed them full presumably of photographers and camera crews topping up kit, making sure they have the right gear to document the city and its people;

…For street vendors near the Eiffel Tower, it was a chance to cash in as Footfall soared with locals and visitors swarming to see for themselves the eye-catching, tributary illumination of this most iconic building in the national colours of red/white/blue, people battling to find space to take photos of – and often selfies with – this rare sight, before it reverts to its usual, simple lighting a few days later. (Yes people were sad but at times the air here even felt festive.)

a rare sight

a temporary sight for sad but curious eyes


Selling illuminated Eiffel Tower souvenirs - albeit not in the red/white/blue colourway

Selling illuminated Eiffel Tower souvenirs – albeit not in the red/white/blue colourway

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

My head is still whizzing with images from this ‘special*’ trip to Paris, and I imagine – and hope – it will always stand out from all my other trips to this great city, because I hope there will never be a repeat of anything that causes any city to be quite so shaken, provoked and caused to grieve as this.

(*‘special’ in the French ‘not normal’ meaning of the word).

Working from my room with a view

Working from my room with a view

Conceptual (and slightly bizarre) art at Palais de Tokyo featuring Parisien culture and lifestyle - ironically, the very things targeted by the terrorists

Conceptual (and slightly bizarre) art at Palais de Tokyo featuring Parisien culture and lifestyle – ironically, the very things targeted by the terrorists

Excerpt from Jane Fiori’s Fieldwork & Travel Diaries. Photos by Jane & Julia.