PARIS — She lit candles and prayed next to Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists and Protestants.
Exactly a year ago, French native Eliane Vaudour kept her kids safe at home, and joined the thousands of Parisians who gathered at a vigil at Place de la Republique. That morning, on Jan. 7, two gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, killing 12 people.
The grisly attack sparked three days of gunfire between terrorists and French police.
Vaudour says she’s certain every Parisian remembers where they were on that fateful day.
“I was so sad and so afraid. I didn’t realize that somebody could shoot so many people. We didn’t have a situation like this before,” she told Global News.
WATCH: French President Francois Hollande arrived on Thursday at the Police Headquarters in Paris to address the police and the military on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
“I went [to the vigils] because it was really important for me to be there to say that we are together, every religion. We have like you, like Canadians — we are free in our country, we live like how we want to live and say what we want to say and we want to protect that,” she explained.
Paris was put on highest alert.
One year later, the entire nation is still under a state of emergency after a subsequent terrorist attack on Nov. 13 killed at least 130 people in a series of shootings across the Paris. Another 350 people were wounded.
Place de la Republique, among several of the shooting sites, became the hub for those who wanted to pay respects to victims and their families. For weeks, media outlets lined the square while locals tended to candles, bouquets of flowers and posters.
On Thursday, handfuls of locals streamed into the square in the rain to do the same. Outside of the former offices of Charlie Hebdo on Rue Nicolas-Appert, a few people paid their respects.
According to the country’s three-month-long state of emergency measures, mass gatherings are prohibited but on Sunday, officials say a public event will be held at Place de la Republique.
Jan. 7 won’t be a normal day for France, and likely many other people around the world, according to Dr. Jill Scott, a Queen’s University professor who studies mourning and conflict resolution.
“Every anniversary, these kinds of symbols, they take on gigantic meaning and can become very, very paralyzing. People react in a variety of ways — some people shut everything out and other people feel a need to connect in any way possible,” she explained.
She’s not surprised that two months after Nov. 13, locals are still lighting candles and leaving messages at the shooting sites.
WATCH: French president honours Charlie Hebdo victims, newspaper reveals front page anniversary issue. Jeff Semple reports.
Cities around the world lit their national monuments in the French colours, red, white and blue. The aftershock of the country’s tragedy seeped across international borders.
“Paris is a brilliant place to attack because it lives so strongly in the imagination of every single person in the West, even people who aren’t in the West…it’s a place for nostalgia for everybody,” she explained.
“We’re trying to make sense of the nonsensical, we’re trying to make meaning. We join together, we light candles, we share stories. We take whatever opportunity we can to knit together some narrative no matter how painful to help us make sense,” she said.
In the incidents’ wake, France grappled with false alarms, heightened security and sealed borders amid reports of midnight raids across the country and neighbouring Belgium.
Officials increased security. Upon entering a movie theatre, department store or grocery store, residents unbutton their coats, and open purses and shopping bags to show security guards they aren’t hiding explosives or weapons.
Locals are checked with a magnetometer wand.
Armed soldiers patrol the streets and the metro, long guns slung across their chests.
This new reality for Parisians doesn’t help in the healing process, Scott warned.
“100 per cent, it’s so stressful to be bombarded with those daily checks. Everybody is a suspect, everybody is potentially a dangerous person,” she said.
“When you’re in a period of prolonged grief, you’re fragile so everything becomes magnified, more difficult, more painful.”
Dr. Aurel Braun, a University of Toronto professor focusing on international relations and foreign policy, says these precautions tamper with our notions of a secure society.
“Is this the new normal, the new way we’re going to lead our lives? We’re going to acquiescence, and adjust and adapt and live in a society that’s constantly vigilant,” he says.
Locals plaster monuments with signs such as, “We mourn, but we do not fear” or “Je suis Charlie.” Braun suggests these are messages of defiance, of refusing to back down, but the ground under the Frenchman’s daily life has shifted.
“Every single one of us is paying a heavy price for terrorism. We say we are not going to allow terrorists to determine our lives — that is important and it’s the right response, but the reality is you have been affected,” he said.
Parisian Lionel Doyhenart says the French are trying to show the resiliency of the country, and its values, liberte (freedom), egalite (equality), and fraternite (brotherhood).
He’s cognizant of the changes to the city. Tourism calmed down, the buzz in bustling neighbourhoods tapered off. For now, he and his friends avoid getting together in areas touched, out of respect for the victims, he says.
He says he won’t let the past year define France and the outside world’s opinion of the country.
“We are not in a state of war, we are still a normal state. We will not use this to close our minds. These events should stay in the past and think of moving France to a place that is mindful,” he said.
To him, Thursday is another workday. It is for Vaudour, too.
“We know it can [happen] again, but we have to live. We must work, we must have fun, we can’t stop,” she said.
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