Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Terrorist attacks cast Paris into ‘an impossible nightmare’

By Andrew Hussey  /  The Observer

At about 3am or 4am, I finally turned off the television set. By now, like most of the rest of France, I had had more than enough of the endless scenes of cruelty and death. All of this taking place no more than 3km from where I live in central Paris.

By now I had also watched French President Francois Hollande declare in a shaky voice that what was happening was “an act of war.” The French news also said that France was now in “a state of emergency” — borders were being closed, public buildings were shut down. People were told to close their shutters and not to go outside.

Before I went to bed, I looked out into the normally quiet and dark residential street where I live. Lights were still blazing. Nobody was going to sleep much tonight — how could they?

The terror began about 9:30pm, as much of Paris [as I did] settled down after dinner to watch a soccer match between France and Germany. First came the noise of the bombs at the Stade de France and the dazed, frightened expressions of the crowd. Then came the news of shootings across the city.

Within 30 minutes, the news took you with a violent lurch even deeper into an impossible nightmare. This was the massacre at the Bataclan. I have not been to the place since the 1980s and remember it as a dusty, run-down place. However, it is still a totemic site in the imagination of French rock fans. Somewhere, I have a bootleg tape of a Velvet Underground reunion gig there in 1973. How could it be that an audience of innocents was slaughtered in this way and at this place?

However, that was the whole point of the attack.

The massacres all took place in the Right Bank area in the east of the city.


For a long time, the area around Republique and the Bastille has been the pleasure center of the city. It is still not too expensive to live there and, more to the point, it is packed with cafes, bars, restaurants and gig venues. It is a multi-ethnic, easygoing part of Paris where inexpensive fun is a component part of the culture.

Politically, this is the home of the Bobos, or bourgeois bohemes, meaning the left-leaning, middle-class intelligentsia who read French newspaper Liberation and who scorn Hollande for his centrist policies.

This was not an attack on the French government, but on a part of a city that prides itself on being an anti-establishment haven. In the terrible game of terror, it is useless and stupid to play the game of equivalences.

However, still there was a growing feeling that this was even worse than the attack on Charlie Hebdo. This was partly because of the numbers of the dead, but also because everybody was a target simply for being there.

Saturday morning was weird and horrible. The “state of emergency” was being reinforced. All movie theaters and swimming pools — anywhere people could gather and become a target — were closed. On the street the atmosphere was muted and subdued. The cafe terraces that were normally buzzing on a Saturday morning were deserted. There was none of the usual banter in my local boulangerie.


People were tight-lipped, but it was obvious they still wanted to talk. As I bought my newspapers, the vendor, a Liverpool fan with whom I sometimes talked about football, told me he had been in the Stade de France the previous night. He was with his wife, who was German and supporting Germany.

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