I met American expats Jessica Walker and Andy McClure at le Square Gardette restaurant in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. Walker and McClure are good friends who both live near the area here that was attack on Nov. 13.
Walker is a consultant who grew up in Boston and has been calling Paris home for 11 years. She was playing tennis on the other side of town that fateful night. So she found out about the attacks when she called her relatives in Boston. They were watching the news on CNN.
McClure is from Raleigh, North Carolina, and an architect. He’s lived in Paris for eight years. Like many Parisians, he knows dozens of people who were affected by the attacks. He was home in the 10th arrondissement that night, just blocks away from Le Carillon bar and le Petit Cambodge restaurant, where 15 people were killed. He did not hear the shots being fired, but he did hear sirens, all night long. This attack, he says, really hit the heart of his community.
“Paris is a provincial place,” he says, comparing it to some parts of Brooklyn. “It’s not a really a city in classic sense, it’s a neighborhood. And this is my neighborhood, I mean this is my blood, this is where I go. I pass Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge probably between four and six times a day.”
McClure was a regular at the restaurants that were hit, but he says he hasn’t felt particularly frightened since the attacks.
“Fear was not an issue,” he says, “I don’t know. Jess, what do you think?” he asks Walker.
“Maybe that’s because I started drinking coffee again,” Walker replies jokingly, “so I’m a little more nervous!” Walker says she found herself hesitating recently about walking into a shopping mall. She knows there are risks to living in a major metropolis.
“I feel that there is always something symbolically that people are going to look to attack here,” she says. “On my way here, I think I smiled at 15 different people and I got at least nine smiles back. I need to connect to people, and I need to connect to my neighborhood, and I need to connect to Paris.”
Over the years in Paris, both Walker and McClure have gotten used to celebrating Thanksgiving with Americans and other expats. But after the past two weeks, Thanksgiving this year may be just another opportunity to get together with friends and talk things out.
“Every day is different since what happened,” says McClure. “I don’t think Thanksgiving is going to be different specifically because of the attacks. I mean it’s pretty intense, every time I see my friends and have dinner for the last days, that’s been the subject of the conversation.”
For Walker, that conversation has provoked a bit of soul searching.
“This makes me feel more thankful, appreciative for what I have been given in life,” she says. “It gives you a kick of awareness, and the things that we take for granted, we take for granted a little bit less, and we embrace things that we sort of love all the more so. You always have the option for good in everything that happens. So I‘m feeling somber and I’m feeling good.
“I think the strongest emotion that I have felt after the attacks is sadness,” adds McClure. “Somber is a good word as well. I just felt sad.”
The attacks have not deterred McClure or Walker’s plans to stay in France. On the contrary, Walker says, if anything they’ve brought a deepened sense of belonging to the expat community.
“There is a feeling that everyone who lives here, whether you have the citizenship or not,” she says, “after what happened, you do feel French and you feel that the French part of you was attacked in what happened”
In fact, Walker says she is now getting ready for to apply for French citizenship.
“Being able to say that I am a French citizen is actually really important to me, to be able to vote here,” she says. “I already pay my taxes here. So it’s symbolic for me and I feel like I belong here, I feel connected. Given what happened, I feel all the more so connected.”
“In the people who lost their lives,” she adds, “a part of me was also lost, and a part of France was lost. And so it’s actually become really important for me to be able to show France that I stand with it as a country that I’m not an outsider. To sort of be one, actually. I have never felt that way more so today than before.”