It was a somber day here in Paris, but people stood patiently in the cold rain on Sunday to remember the 130 lives lost last year.
French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo unveiled commemorative plaques at every location that was targeted in coordinated attacks last year — from the national stadium to the terraces of cafes and restaurants and the Bataclan theater.
The victims’ families had asked for a day of intimate ceremonies without political speeches. So relatives read remembrances, and in the 11th arrondissement, where many of the attacks occurred, a pianist performed for an eerily silent crowd.
Caroline Jolivet looks distraught, but she says the balloons are a heartwarming sight, especially for her 7-year-old daughter. Jolivet lost her husband in the shootings at the Bataclan. She says this has been a devastating year for her and her two children. It took three days for her to receive confirmation of her husband’s death.
"From the moment my husband’s death was confirmed,” she says, “I decided the terrorists would not claim three more victims. I had no choice, I have to make sure my children have the most normal life possible. You need nerves of steel.”
For relatives of the victims, 2016 was the most trying year of their lives. But they had to find ways to cope.
At a gathering of the 13 Onze 15 victims association, named for the date of the attack, Patricia Correia tells me she lost her only daughter, 35-year-old Precilia, at the Bataclan. Correia learned important details about her daughter’s last moments at the theater; the spot where she stood, the number of bullets she took — five. But she will always wonder how long it took for her daughter to die.
“We all ask ourselves, ‘Did they agonize?’” she says. “Since the police did not let first responders in immediately … some people were shot multiple times and are still alive today. So you always have this doubt, did my daughter die instantly or did she agonize and suffer? What we are living through is horrible.”
Correia says working with the victims’ association has been therapeutic. Georges Salines, the president of the group, lost his own daughter, 28-year-old Lola, at the Bataclan. And he wrote a book about her, a meditation on the value of her short life. He says his daughter loved music and roller derby.
“I needed to write in order to put some distance between my pain and my thoughts. When I wrote, I could write about my daughter, about what happened, without crying, simply, without breaking down, then publishing the book has helped also because I met people with very similar experiences and this is a very moving experience.”
Aurelia Gilbert is also with the association. She survived the Bataclan attack last year and recently returned to the theater.
Adeline S ire
“I was overwhelmed by all the emotions, a year of emotions, the fear, the mourning of the people who died there, the guilt of being alive and not dead, everything.”
In the aftermath, Gilbert has been reaching out to the families of the attackers, trying to understand what drives young people to turn on their country and join groups like ISIS.
As darkness fell on Sunday, silent crowds converged on the banks of the Saint Martin canal. People placed floating lanterns on the water to honor the victims, in France's colors of blue, white and red.
Just around the corner on Rue Alibert, where 13 people perished a year ago, boisterous life goes on at cafe Le Carillon. On Sunday night, there’s a party at the bar, a choir is singing, and people are crowding the place, spilling onto its sidewalk. At this moment at least, it seems that Paris cafe terraces will never die.