November 13th, Paris

An unusual warmth descended upon the Parisian autumn. A parallel to three years past: respite before the holidays, slippery sidewalks and the reign of grey. Weather for terrasses, along with one last drink, a final promenade under rusty foliage.

It’s 11 am already, and the crowd awaits the procession. Rays of sunlight intensify and soon bathe the rooftops of the Bataclan. Beneath its silhouette – grave but colorful, cheerful yet sepulchral – lies the crowd. Families, friends, and the same uniforms as those that traversed the night of November 13, 2015: paramedics of the SAMU, firefighters, anonymous first responders, all those who could not keep their eyes shut.

Badges, earpieces, and rifles: the police are here too, everywhere around. Paris has gotten used to it since the events of Charlie, a few months before, a few steps away from here. Leaning on the balconies, men in uniforms observe the silent crowd. Silence: today’s homage, what the organizers wished for as a last stop of the tribute for the victims. Since morning it had criss-crossed the city from Stade de France to the troquets of the 11th arrondissement.

The neighborhood itself is filled with silence: perimeter secured. Three years ago, at this same spot, sirens enshrouded the night with their inexhaustible plaints. This morning, the wind can be heard blowing the leaves of the boulevard Richard Lenoir. Suddenly a quick bustle ushers in new uniforms coming to garnish the security presence. Here are the elected officials in their sashes, members of the government. Side by side the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and the Prime Minister Édouard Phillippe have come to join the gathering. And yet, there were no speeches, respecting the wishes of the families and friends of the victims. It is still a time for silence.

Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, and government members Christophe Castaner, Nicole Belloubet and Benjamin Griveaux © ST

It is only broken by the pronouncement of the names of the 90 lives lost at the Bataclan. Some of them come to mind: stories read three years ago, their souvenirs retained by those who loved them. A minute of silence. Ms. Hidalgo and Mr. Philippe commune for a moment and leave a bouquet of tricolore flowers before the new memorial where the almost hundred names are now engraved. As of next year, a remembrance artwork will connect the concert venue to the memorial located right across, under the tree-adorned promenade.

The Bataclan and flowers left by Ms Hidalgo and Mr Philippe © ST

“The ceremony is now over”, a loudspeaker announces. Silence can cease for a time. People find, embrace, and comfort one another. The Parisian mayor discusses with her constituents, the victims that tragedy has left in its path, while the slender silhouette of the Prime Minister surfaces from the crowd as he greets rescue workers. Slowly some in the assistance detach from it, pass a police roadblock, and disappear in one of the streets shaping this sad triangle. Through the silence everything was said.

Mr Philippe greets representatives of the SAMU © ST

Still here after the government’s departure, Ms. Hidaldo leaves the thinning gathering next to London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who came in solidarity for his own city, also grieving from a wave of terrorism which surfaced in these past few years.

The homage continues in front of the 11th district’s city hall, 900 meters away. The two officials chose to join this last ceremony by foot, walking on the roadway of the boulevard Voltaire, which was closed for the occasion. The sun stops hiding, and the Autumn seems far. Three years ago, sirens and dread reverberated between the regal Haussmann facades. Everything is so calm today.

M. Khan and Mme Hidalgo discuss on boulevard Voltaire © ST

The mayors speak in English as they walk at a brisk pace, surrounded with their teams and an inevitable journalistic swarm. Ms Hidalgo and Mr Khan have many things in common, heading the administrations of two cosmopolitan and open capitals in the heart of Europe as it faces another nationalistic withdrawal. They also share the burden of having seen their cities and citizens tactlessly insulted by the current American president, as is customary through Twitter lies and obscene imitations.

Sadiq Khan, dignified despite the affront, was also personally attacked by the man who quite evidently cannot bear to see persons of color encounter personal or political success. One can wonder what the two mayors can agree about it in private; the term of dotard might seem light in comparison to describe someone who had the childish impulse of insulting France on such a vivid day of remembrance.

M. Khan and Mme Hidalgo answer questions of journalists © ST

The mayors stop a moment to address the cameras: “questions en anglais uniquement”, it is specified. They remind the crowd of the significance in the links and friendship between their two cities and also – two days after the centennial of the World War I armistice – between their two countries. After saluting the mayor of the arrondissement, François Vauglin, they join the stage at the center of the ceremony. The ministers are gone but the esplanade facing the city hall, the Léon Blum square, is full. Through its round eyeglasses, the statue of the former Président du conseil examines the gathering with a puzzled look.

This time there is no longer silence: the organizers wanted music to celebrate the memory of the 130 lives stolen three years ago. Music as an ode to joy. A man then a woman alternate on the stage between the speeches to perform With or Without You”, “Imagine”, “Stand by Me” and “Feeling Good”. Two grandmothers complain of this musical anglophilia, but the artists have a clear voice and sound right, up to the tribute. The event was conceived by the organizations of victims  Life for Paris and 13onze15, whose spokesmen express their emotion on stage. Three years afterwards the pain is intact: the pain of mourning, of the impossible acceptation of the unacceptable.

The artist Jeff Koons is briefly cited and criticized for his ethical drift after he alluded to the terror attacks while trying to place one of his artworks – a bouquet of XXL balloons – in the Parisian landscape. The tribute must be given for yesterday’s victims by today’s victims. Memorial twist: hundreds of multicolor – and “biodegradable” – balloons are distributed in the rows of the assembly. As the organizers give the signal, they take off in a helium flock which colors the sky of Paris.

Ballons are released in front of the city hall of Paris’ 11th arrondissement during the tribute to the victims of the November 2015 attacks © ST

Towards République, back again to boulevard Voltaire. Parisians and visitors come to remember, leaving some flowers before the Bataclan. In front of the engraved stone appears de facto opposition leader Mr Mélenchon along with elected officials of his party La France Insoumise, tricolore sashes over their shoulders. The moment is solemn: they lie a crown decked with the colors and motto of the République, reflect for an instant.

Mr Mélenchon (second from the left) and elected officials of the France Insoumise party in front of the Bataclan © ST

The elected cluster walks towards Oberkampf, Mr Mélenchon enters a bistrot and chats at the counter. Just a month ago, the Nations League game between France and Germany was probably broadcasted here. Final score 2-1, victory for Les Bleus at the Stade de France. A stone’s throw from the Bataclan that Parisians fill once again on concert nights, the terrasse is full of patrons. It is November 13 today, and memories are recalled under a bright blue sky.


Translation: S.P.T. & S.T.
Cover picture: Place de la République, Paris – December 2015 © ST

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