Sound and Silence

It has been one year since the Paris attacks, and the City of Light has flickered back to life.

The caliginous tension we were cloaked under after November 13th, 2015 was so palpable at times it felt physical. A winter chill blew in days after the religious lunatics went on their medieval bender and the grayness of the sky illuminated the harshness of the sudden military presence on our beautiful streets. Combat boots and massive guns stood in stark contrast to the city’s Haussmanian beige. The wind whistled as it swirled around barren chairs and tables on the sidewalks. For days we spoke in murmurs to one another, as if our natural volume would imply an ambivalence towards the violent fog that lay thick in the air; a cold humidity that temporarily had us in its grip.

We were waiting for it to evaporate, as if it never existed. Instead it – and our new reality – soaked in. We do not see it, but it is part of us now. That is okay.

Before the St. Denis siege was over on November 18th, before the over 300 raids on homes, mosques and places of business had followed, by the time Brussels had been put on and then taken off complete lockdown on November 21st, hints of normalcy began to spark back into French society. The hashtag #JeSuisEnTerrace popped up on Twitter and Facebook, inviting people out of their homes and back into cafes to drink and feign merriment in defiance of the fear the fanatics had hoped would overwhelm us.

It took some time for us all to catch our breath again, but within a few weeks, most of us had.

A year later, cafes are as busy as ever. Laughter fills up rooms again, music spills out onto streets, people are out on terraces clinking glasses of wine and smoking too many cigarettes. It was the terrorists’ ignorance of their victims – naivety even – to assume anything, including guns and suicide bombs, could keep the French away from smooshing friends around tiny tables and sharing bottles of Bordeaux.

However, I would be lying if I said there were not still residual moments from that night – or perhaps the way Paris changed afterwards – that do not affect me from time to time.

It is not the remaining soldiers who stand in formation on our corners and detract attention from the curly-q lampposts that occur to me, nor the presence of Gendarmerie vehicles parked up on sidewalks or men in bullet proof vests patrolling our monuments. It is not even the sporadic and unexplained presence of police tape that block cars and pedestrians from approaching cobblestone corridors through which we freely strolled days before. The newly implemented bag and ID checks that have become mandatory in order to enter my university’s buildings – and many other buildings throughout Paris – are a needed illusion of safety.

Sounds, and a lack thereof, are what still get to me.

It is the clash of a waiter accidentally dropping a tray on the floor. It is the rumble of a car starting, or the second of irrational panic as one turns off; ominous lulls that invite flashes of paranoia. It is the creak of a door opening into a room in which I am sitting, or shutting somewhere I am not. It is the oblivious raucous of teenagers getting out of school – their loud footsteps stomping on concrete, getting louder with each coltish stride. It is the screech of a store owner pulling the metal gate down in front of his door. And it is the blare of sirens, wherever they may be.

But just as blatant and brazen as the sounds are the moments of silence that follow; momentary gaps in the sonancy of normalcy we instinctively sewed back together a year ago to return to la vie quotidienne.

For some of us, our instinct is to inspect, dissect and interpret our surroundings in the span of a millisecond, without probably realizing we are doing it. If there is an instigating noise, it is followed by an equally-loud collective pause. A couple of months ago, in line at a Starbucks near Notre Dame a few days after the latest [as far as we know] foiled terror plot in the same area, a child in his mother’s arms dropped his sippy cup on the floor. About five of us jumped three feet in the air, and then tried to pretend we didn’t. Because fuck terrorism – but also fuck that kid with the sippy cup.

Finding light in darkness is not a philosophy – it is the only way to get through our lives

So as we mark the year anniversary of one of the worst days in French history, we are changed, but we are whole. I am an American in Paris, but Paris is my home. The West is my home. And Peace will always be the banner under which most of us strive to live.

Finding light in darkness is not a philosophy – it is the only way to get through our lives without succumbing to the ugliness some are determined to wreak. With each song played a little louder, with each couple dancing alone in their living rooms, with each joke told and each laugh echoing out among friends we do the only thing we can do – which is to live our lives and strive for moments of happiness; for ordinary joy that is neither poignant nor special. For normalcy – whatever our previous notion of that concept was.

The tension in the air is still palpable at times, but as long as the world is in the state it is in, that may be our new normal for a while. We may feel our air for a while. So we must make our inhales and exhales worthwhile. We are not ensured a long life, as morbid as that sounds. We buried enough people a year ago to know better now. So live for the ones of us who died. Say yes to more things that serve us and no to more things that don’t. Take leaps and know the net will appear. Have the second piece of bread. Order the bottle of wine. Kiss deeply, and mean it when you do.

Vive La France.

Photo courtesy of Paul Doz (Flickr Creative Commons)

Jordan Nadler is a NYC writer/journalist who moved to Paris in search of creative fulfillment & better carbs. She can generally be found on the Left Bank w/ a glass of something in one hand and a pen in the other.
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