Driving from Pasadena to Los Angeles airport two weeks ago, my Uber driver
was a Croatian who was born in Germany but who left in 1999 because he wanted a better education for his children. He explained that all his friends
who stayed in this wonderful city « am Rhein », had managed to get «Beruf », some manual jobs, but this was not like the success of his kids. The first, a boy,
had just joined Longbeach University with a grant and the second, a girl, was brilliant.
Life was not that easy for him as he was recovering from Leukaemia, but still he thought crossing the Atlantic was the best thing he had ever done in
his life. He might not improve his status, but his children were on the right path. « Sorry to be impolite, but there is no hope in Europe,
how can you have a future with fear? » That seemed then a weird thought, but he explained why.
How could we have so many refugees coming in so easily ; « You make it too easy, anybody can come ». He was quite balanced, he was himself
an immigrant. He said that it was not a matter of religion, but of control and threshold.
I tried to explain that now that we had no choice but to accept those people fleeing disaster. And that we were France, the country of the human rights.
At the time it felt right, the tragedy of January 2015 seemed far away, the Thalys terrorist had been neutralised by courageous passengers ; it looked like life was going on, French arrogance was
But now after Friday November 13th, the prophecy sounded cruel.
How can we cope with random killing and... fear ?
I was cleaning my flat after the builders left at last, when my daughter, called to see if I was fine. She caught me at a moment when I was
wondering if my son, turning 16 soon would regain the self confidence he recently lost with 3 bad marks... Trivial isn't it.
"Are you alright Mum ?", she asked. She is not the worried type. No news is good news and I sometimes protest about paying the phone subscription
and not getting news. She broke the news to me about people being slaughtered at the Bataclan, this famous concert hall, where Death Metal was playing
on Friday the 13th.
I refused to watch TV, and kept cleaning the flat, in order to control my emotions. I knew it would grab me. I looked at the articles on the Internet. Sky News called me: Could I comment on the situation ?
I did not feel like it. I had written an article for The Independent in January, but I would not risk saying foolish things for Sky News,
when I knew nothing.
Again I did not want to get emotional. I polished the marble, the mirrors.
My ex-husband wrote a text message ; he wondered if it was a good idea to send the kids to school the next day. Not an understatement. No, they won't go to school. My son texted « cool », a relief.
Being the head of a parent association, I received then a message from the national office, that schools and university would be closed anyway. I forwarded the mail to as many people as I could, texted it
to the phone numbers I had. And I changed the linen of the whole house.
My flat has never been so clean, I decided to put some order in my daughter's cup board, heavy work...
I waited till the morning to turn on TV hit by what I expected : a sense of unreality, apathy, and nausea. No hope, just fear.
I had planned to go to London, for one my dear friends, Andreas Whittam Smith, the founder of the Independent about which I did my PHD some 26
years ago, was being knighted in London on November 17th.
Should I stay or should I go?
The more I listened to TV, the less I was able to move, hypnotized by horror. I was unable to call anyone. I did not reply to messages
asking me if I was safe. Was I safe ? Luckily enough, my dear friend Nina, my Bulgarian interpreter when I was working as a journalist for
the Figaro in Sofia in 1990, called to talk to me. Nina is fluent in Bulgarian, French, English, and Italian. She did not dare calling me
because, she had been laid off and had no great news to deliver, turning 50 and not only not finding a job, but not getting any
interviews. There is always good aspect in the worst of times. And my mother, with whom I had a row, finally sent a text message. My
resentment was gone. I still could not make my mind, going to London or not. The next terrorist targets are London and New York.
Again I texted my dear friend, Philippe who is a TV journalist, who said « it is war and confusion. If I were you, I would not go » and in
the nick of time, I could see all the atrocious images he certainly had seen non-stop for hours, sorting what he could show and what he
could not. « It is war, and for a long time »
I decided not to go to London for ten minutes, but I could not imagine myself passive and stuck in the flat remembering how I felt last
January. Then I texted a friend who is a cop, who replied « Hello cutie pie, we've got to keep living, being careful, though, but
security is reinforced ».
And I changed my program and my mind. I had to be fast before I changed it again and decided to take a Uber to the station. From a
safe place to another safe place.
The Uber driver was of North African origin, a nice person. « Life will never be the same again, we have to adjust to this new danger ».
The morning he had received a message , no swimming for his daughter living in Montreuil, a suburb in the East of Paris. All public
establishments were closed. « What am I going to tell to my daughter ?».
It gave me hope that he could not explain nor justify what happened, in spite of all the symbolic targets (rue de Charonne a notorious
street for Algerians, rue de la Republic, the Germano-French soccer match, Republique street) because for the last tragic event in
January, to my despair, some people found one could justify or explain the atrocity by the target itself.
With random killing, this is over, I hope.
Then I was at the Gare du Nord station; quasi empty with the militaries patrolling. That was very impressive. Sorrow lay on my shoulders like
a wet jacket, sticky, heavy.
Then I went through the customs, there was another French girl, black hair with a pony tail. When giving her passport, she burst into tears
and as she did, I could not stop mine either.
I had two hours to kill before the train departed and it seemed to last for ages. It is incredible how time plays with our nerves
In the train at the bar, I met with an English guy of Indian origin, eating camembert and wine. He said we should go on living as the Brits in 2005. I explained that
the State of emergency meant we have all the police forces investigating the murdering. Was he right? I did not know.
In the train of course, I thought of the Thalys terrorist. The Eurostar employees were everywhere reassuring, but if anything happened
what would they be able to do ?
So I chased this anxiety writing this piece.
Then I arrived in London, my friend Brian, a lawyer, picked me up in his old Jaguar, telling me about living with terrorism, reminding me
about the last terrorist attack in London, and the long history of IRA terrorism when there was not a week without people dying.
The real stake for France is without being unrealistic, is to avoid the civil war the terrorists want to implement in Europe and keep living together.
Keep the candle on your window or in your heart wherever you are...
And keep coming to Paris, we need you !