After a Shabbat dinner with friends in a flat in the 4th arrondissement (district) we were taking a stroll in the Notre Dame Cathedral plaza on Friday evening when all hell broke loose. Multiple sirens, cars, and emergency vehicles chased in every direction as two large black cargo-type vans pulled up and militia poured out to secure the plaza we were in.
We just froze.
It was a very scary moment where our world went from the type of contentment one feels after some good food and wine, giving thanks for a wonderful evening and friends, to a split second where everything is turned upside down.
The next morning, with the details more clear, the gravity of what had actually happened sunk in. My business partner, Jason Rubinoff, and I started to walk from our hotel in the 14th arrondissement and it was an eerie 9/11 calm in the streets. We happened upon a café, the Café Cote Canal, typical of any Parisian restaurant with its history and social charm that wraps you in its cozy welcoming French tradition. I started to feel very stressed just five minutes into our coffee, and turned to Jason and said, “Any moment this place could blow.” It was a real anxiety as the events of the evening were settling in.
We were warned by our cancelled conference hosts not to venture out – but seriously, how could we sit in our hotel watching the news of where we were? It was like a weird, looking-glass kind of feeling. We aimlessly walked and found ourselves in the 10th arrondissement where we walked right up the very street that, only hours ago, cowards had gone for their joy ride and killing spree.
We saw a group of people gathered and realized it was the middle ground of the two restaurants that were hit. People were laying wreaths and lighting candles. Families and friends had gathered and were in the beginnings of the painful process of mourning. I almost felt like I was intruding and yet, I was drawn closer to the scene and found my self oddly enough sharing in their grief. I stood and cried. I felt as if I was Canada and mourning with them. It was a weird feeling but much better than hiding in my hotel room.
Later that evening we went back to the 4th arrondissement for dinner and what was normally a bustling street full of crowds was very quiet with few establishments open. After a dinner at a small café that was off a street secure enough for my own sense of comfort we strolled back toward the 14th and came upon the Republique Square where hundreds were gathered in a vigil creating a memorial.
I was very sad to see Paris in this state. A place where such joy in living has met the shadows of terror perpetrated by people who were protected, fed, educated, and cared for by the social republic. What a mess the French have found themselves in after having the good humanitarian intent to open their borders to this kind of home-grown terror. There are areas in the Paris suburbs where not even police officers will go without an army escort.
I really hope that our newly elected prime minister takes a hard look here and understands that, while we as Canadians want to be able to provide protection to those whose own governments have failed to do so, we must do it with responsibility for the safety of our own citizens. We only need to look across the pond.