The Blog

A Solitary Feast: My Remaining Time As An American Student In Paris

I was forty euros and a stomach ache away from being in the midst of the most violence Paris has seen since World War II.
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I was forty euros and a stomach ache away from being in the midst of the most violence Paris has seen since World War II. I had plans of going to the France-Germany international friendly last Friday. A few weeks ago, my friend and I looked up the prices, but when we saw the tickets were 40 euros, we decided against it. I, for one, am not much of a soccer fan. We said to ourselves, "We'll just go see Paris Saint-Germain later. That will be more fun anyway."

My best friend from Oxford University was in Paris that weekend also. We had plans to go out Friday night. However, after a long day of work, I felt quite sick, so I let him know that we would have to catch up tomorrow: "Sorry bro," I said via email, "not feeling up for anything tonight." I proceeded to go to bed early, at around 8, and slept through all the terror. I woke up at around midnight, checked my phone, and saw around thirty emails and ten text messages. The texts all read similarly: "Donald. Please respond when you can. Are you okay?"

Emails from friends in the States were just as frantic: "Donald, what's going on over there? Please drop a line so I know you're safe." I pre-emptively emailed my family who had not yet heard the news: "Hey fam, I am safe. I am in my room, but you should know that this happen. Love you all so much," and I left a link below. Even after that email, they still wanted to skype. They said, "We must hear your voice."

The worst of times truly do bring out the best in people also. I received warm, life-affirming emails from friends I forgot I had, and by some I didn't even think knew I was in Paris. Friends that had lived in New York during 9/11 and Boston during the bombings, in particular, continually check in on me every day. Hatred and violence showed its ugly face on Friday the 13th, but so too did love and empathy. I was particularly worried about one of my friends in Paris who went to a bar to watch the soccer game. After he said he was safe, I asked, "But how are you going to get home?" We both lived in the suburbs, and the RER Metro, his means of transportation, was closed. He said he was not sure. The next day we met up and I asked him how he returned. His response: "It was actually quite easy. It's crazy how people stick together and support one another in these times. A guy saw me looking at a map and asked me where I lived and drove me back. It was a car full of people, all stranded, that he took home."

This day will inevitably change my remaining time here in the City of Lights. What made these attacks so horrendous is the normalcy of each target. In one of the most hip areas of the city, the 10th arrondisement, where people enjoy the simple pleasures of life--a dinner or a drink at a café, a music concert at The Bataclan, or an international soccer game--terror came to visit. These sites were not predictable, such as Le Panthéon national, or Palais Bourbon, or La Tour Eiffel. What is so shocking about this terrorism is the banality of it all: a restaurant here, a restaurant there, and a concert hall. It forces all that live here to question the most quotidian of enjoyable affairs.

The anxiety and tension in the air is palpable. Cop cars are driving frantically through the city with sirens ringing at an abnormal rate, and the level of security throughout the city is unprecedented. No one can enter my college without providing a reason for being there. Even once one passes that level of security, every building on campus is locked. One has to be let in and sometimes asked to provide more reasons for one's entrance.

I didn't get to see my friend during his weekend stay in Paris. We emailed back and forth to make sure all was well, but we both felt it smart to limit our movement. He was also in Paris in early January for Christmas break. In fact, he was in the Louvre when the Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred. He doesn't plan to come back to Paris anytime soon. I had more friends that planned to come visit me--some this upcoming weekend--but their plans have changed. They are staying in Oxford, UK, where I will return after the New Year.

I cook in my room more now. I've had enough of the café life for a while. It's cheaper, and, more importantly, it feels safer. Paris has so much to offer. Its vibrant street life is unmatched. It's no wonder it's one of the most visited cities in the world. However, I am happy I had some fun before this all happened. All my plans for my remaining time here have changed drastically. I was going to a concert to see one of my favorite rappers next week, Joey Bada$$. The week after that, I was going to see Talib Kweli. Bada$$ was to perform in The Bataclan. That just hits too close to home. I had already bought my ticket, but I threw it away today when I discovered it in my drawer. And yesterday, I told my friend that if he still wants to go to a Paris Saint-Germain game, he would have to do some serious convincing to get me to come with him.