PARIS — It’s Saturday night in Paris. The city, as always, is elegant. But this weekend the mood is quiet and reflective. The streets are somber and glisten with headlights in the drizzle. For the first time in four days, no one has died in a terrorist attack. Is it really over?
I walk out of my hotel, just five-minutes from the magazine offices of Charlie Hebdo, which is now a cordoned-off crime scene. With work done, I can finally relax and look for a beer.
I hear laughter down the street and see a bulge of people. There is still some “joie de vivre” in this city. We investigate and enjoy a refreshment.
Leaving, we come across a memorial to police officer Ahmed Merabet. For me, the image of his murder was the most chilling moment of the attacks. Being a Muslim couldn’t save him from a fanatic. With his hands up, he was executed in cold blood on the street. Media organizations blurred-out the picture.
There is a flash of blue light and a police car pulls up. Four officers get out. They gather silently around the flowers and candles.
It’s a quiet night — finally. A chance to see where their colleague fell.
We dive into another bar. It’s closing time but the waiter serves us anyway. It’s someone’s birthday. But it seems not everyone was in the mood to party. There is a lot of cake left over. So we are offered a couple of pieces. It is rainbow coloured and delicious. I devour my slice in seconds. And I realize I have barely eaten in days.
We walk outside and towards the main memorial to the Charlie Hebdo victims on rue Nicolas Appert.
The media circus is gone. No more TV cameras. No more Anderson Cooper. No more crowds. There are only a handful of people here. Friends of the dead maybe. I hear a man near me sobbing quietly.
There is a photo of a young Jean Cabut. “Cabu,” as he is known, was one of the most famous cartoonists in France. In his round-coloured spectacles he resembles John Lennon, another irreverent hero martyred by a madman.
Anger and retribution are mingled among the tributes. Grieving cartoonists exact their revenge by posting drawings at the crime scene.
One shows a terrorist shooting a pencil in half – only to be erased by the rubbery bottom of his victim.
Another shows the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, now angels in heaven, pissing on the heads of their murderers: “Et voilà, c’est déjà l’bordel …”
I spot a Quebec flag posted on the wall, a show of support from the province of my birth. I smile. But it makes the tragedy feel more personal. As a Montrealer, Paris always feels more like home than London.
Finally we pass the last tribute at some other deadly site. Earlier in the day the flowers had been piling up randomly around a hodgepodge of candles and pens.
But someone had come by in the evening and turned it into street art. The flowers were now carefully laid out in the shape of a heart, ringed by pens and flickering heart-shaped candlelight.
Even in mourning, Paris is still beautiful.