By Lorna Keane (@LornaKeane)
Sitting at the water’s edge on Canal Saint-Martin, a picnic of bread and wine, the soothing sounds of a guitar coming from the nearby group, and the feeling of complete bliss that accompanies the sunset beyond the busy footbridges.
This is how I remember Paris, the city where I spent some of my happiest years as an Irish expat and English teacher at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University.
For me, and most of the close-knit group of international friends I made in my two years living in Paris, it’s hard to imagine a better place to spend your mid-twenties, surrounded by arty freedom-seekers who enjoy the simple pleasures the city has to offer.
While some dislike the cramped living quarters and the stifling Parisian air, we embraced it as part-and-parcel of the real Paris experience that offers a sense of liberty like no other.
Seeing the horrifying images and heart-stopping footage from Friday night’s terror attacks as the death toll continues to mount, it’s hard to fathom the events that have unfurled in this home away from home.
Targeting some of the most popular dwellings for the Parisian youth where we would often spend our evenings, the realisation that this was a purposeful attack on the innocence of the city made it all the more surreal.
Branding the Eagles of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan “a party of perversity”, ISIS has boasted its success at targeting the heart of this ‘city of love’.
Apart from the crippling devastation that has gripped France and the wider world as our hearts bleed for the victims, the wave of fear that has consequently taken hold is a stark reminder of the insidious goals of these terrorists.
With the world’s major cities calling for an urgent clampdown on security, responding with haste to outside threats, and (perhaps most importantly) tightening their borders, it’s evident that the Islamic State’s efforts to ensue chaos and fear and in turn breed hate has begun to take effect.
Anti-Islam protests have already taken place in Paris and we can only assume there will be much more violence and hate crimes to come.
Because while we grieve for the hundreds of defenceless victims of the Paris massacres, we also grieve for the countless innocent refugees who will too feel the wrath of Islamic State’s latest attack on humanity as the winter brings a threat of its own.
Yet, the shows of solidarity coming in their droves from every corner of the globe send a powerful message to the faceless attackers that we stand as one, united in grief.
Famous landmarks around the world lit up in the French colours in a moving display of support.
Despite the capital’s lockdown, the French people left the safety of their homes to join the queues offering blood donations to the attack victims.
Social media once again proved its ability to bring people together in times of need as Facebook’s Safety Check helped to account for loved ones and Twitter’s #PrayForParis hashtag left a large defiant mark on the internet reminiscent of those we saw in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
And the city of Paris came to an abrupt stop to mourn the loss of life, attending vigils and paying their respects.
Here in London, a day after the worst terrorist attack to hit Europe in the past decade, the atmosphere is one of sadness and tension, as commuters get on with their daily lives amid the echoes of fear.
And as I shed a tear for the vibrant city that I know and love, I can only hope that the uplifting messages of solidarity, unity and respect – liberté, égalité, fraternité – will be extended to all, including those waiting in desperation at our borders, because as President Obama puts it, “this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share.”