13/11/2015 – 13/11/2016
by Claudette Parry Laws
A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in the 11th district of Paris. As I was leaving around lunchtime, she suggested I stop at a local restaurant a few streets away, for some food. She said “There’s a great place, just a ten-minute walk away, the foods good, it’s got a great vibe, you’ll love it” “What’s it called”, I said. “La Belle Equipe” she replied. My rumbling belly lurched! “Wasn’t that the same restaurant where all those people were hurt in the attack?” “Yeah, but it”s been totally overhauled”, she said, “you should check it out“
I remember leaving her apartment and feeling uneasy about this suggestion. All the memories of that fateful night came flooding back. I had planned to be out dining with friends that evening, but it had suddenly been cancelled so I was safe at home. I remember fielding calls and messages from concerned family and friends and watching the shocking, unfolding news coverage. Huddled under blankets on the sofa with my better half, aghast at the horrifying details of Paris under siege, just a few miles from where we lived. The sorrow we felt as the death toll revealed innocent lives caught in the crossfire. I shuddered at my recollection of November 13,s2015.
What was it like being in Paris with your kids MLP? What was Paris like? How did you feel? Did you tell the kids? Here are my answers.
It’s hard to believe that 365 days have passed since then. An unforgettable night of horror that has left a deep wound in the hearts of the people here in France.
I hadn’t thought about the Paris Attacks vividly for a while, preferring to try and move on positively and not look back. But living in Paris, after such a tragedy, would not make such a mission easy, as the reminders are forever present.
One such reminder was the mention of La Belle Equipe. The only time I had been in close proximity to this restaurant was a few days after the attack. I was driving through the city and saw the debris. A gutted building on the corner of a busy Paris street. I saw people standing, numb with silence, paying their respects amongst the flowers that carpeted the pavement beneath their feet. It was heart wrenching.
Sine that night, as a resident of Paris, the change in the city has been all too evident. The heavy police presence and armed guards patrolling the streets, following the declared and ongoing state of emergency, is a chilling sign of the constant threat to the capital and the country.
Of course, one is still taken aback seeing armed soldiers every now and then, appearing in various districts. Sometimes casually strolling down a busy street, or flanking a popular tourist site or even a department store wearing full uniform and sporting automatic rifles. Once, the twins and I were boarding a metro only to see among ordinary travellers, beret-wearing camouflage-covered cadets standing to attention, weapons fully displayed! It takes some getting used to, but strange as it may sound, this veil of protection provides a level of security for the citizens of the city and has now become an uncomfortable norm that we just learn to live with.
Over the course of the last year, the threat of terrorism has become an inevitable topic to discuss with the kids as they seek to understand what’s happening in the world. The events last year shook their reality. Parents and schools have been forced to placate and educate. That process is ongoing. Here in Paris, the kids have regular drills! In my day, when I was a kid we had fire drills, today my children have ‘terrorist threat drills’ following a government mandate to the letter.
I think about this as I slowly walk in the direction of La Belle Equipe. I feel a little tense and contemplate whether it’s a good idea to go. 19 people had brutally lost their lives there, it just felt wrong to go and sit where they had sat, to eat whether they had devoured their last supper, to be living and breathing in a space where such tragedy had struck. I carry on walking along the quiet street, still contemplating.
Quiet! Paris has been so much quieter since the attacks last year. Businesses relying on tourism have come and gone, as the incoming cash from Paris lovers has dwindled. Paris has been working hard to reassure people that the city is a safe place to be but there is a lot of persuading still to be done. Where I live many businesses have had to close their doors and shop owners have shared with me that takings are down, but many are so resilient and determined. There are always new commercial offerings lying in wait.
I wonder if La Belle Equipe is under new management or whether the owners at the time of the attack have re-opened the establishment. As I get closer, I pull out my phone to google more of the story, still unsure of my next move.
La Belle Equipe was the last of the attacked spots in Paris to be reopened and yes the owner at the time Gregory Reibenburg is still in charge. His wife, the mother of his child, had been amongst the 19 people who had died there that night. She had bled to death in his arms. He told the Wall Street Journal
“the place where they died doesn’t exist anymore…it is gone”
He made the statement whilst the restaurant was undergoing a complete overhaul and redesign. A decision he had made in an effort to ensure, that the new La Belle Equipe had no resemblance to the old one. “I‘ll be coming here with my daughter”, he had said, “I don’t want to be able to visualise what happened here!”
The owners of all the venues that had been targeted on November 13, 2015 had vowed to rebuild their businesses as an act of defiance’ I read.
Despite his conflicted feelings, rebuilding a place that had been the source of his own personal sorrow, Gregory Reibenburg was investing thousands of euros, to resurrect his restaurant, which had previously filled his life with so much joy.
He told the Wall Street Journal
“I don’t know how I will feel if I come by and it is filled with people…I can’t be happy, I can’t be sad either? It’s complicated”
My mood shifted! The feelings that were brimming to the surface, echoed the emotions that spread across the city in the wake of the attacks last year! An overwhelming feeling of strength following the tears that were shed. The iron-clad solidarity that swept the nation – the words that adorned the walls and railings in the street! FLUCTUAT NEC MERGITUR – meaning “It is beaten by the waves but does not sink” This phrase is the motto of Paris and the natives truly lived it during the aftermath and have done ever since.
I grabbed the only available table left on the terrace and ordered a glass of wine. Naturally if felt uncomfortable but I was empowered by the story of the owner and propelled by an urge to support him, admiring his bold stance in the face of adversity.
He is Jewish, his wife was a Muslim. It shouldn’t matter but the issue of race is a contentious issue here and has become even more pronounced since 13/11. The fear is real and the attitudes of people in the city are at times tinged with xenophobia and as a woman of colour with mixed raced children it is something I am very much aware of. There is a move to the right on both sides of the Atlantic and France is no exception.
As I look around the newly refurbished and redesigned layout of La Belle Equipe, I think about how it has moved on from where it was and how the owner has given it a rebirth. I ponder on how Paris has progressed, forever tainted by grief. I consider the journey of my family over this last twelve months and how lucky we are to have each other and live happily in one of the most beautiful places in the world. How we have made every effort to enjoy our lives here, embracing the beauty and culture of a city that has inspired us in so many ways.
One year on, despite the challenges, Paris is focused on thriving and so are we.
To end with the words of Gregory Reibenburg, the owner of La Belle Equipe “… all of us have our scars, but the show must go on…we have to move forward.”
Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims who died on November 13, 2015. To all those who lost their lives that day, may you rest in peace.