Friday, the 13th: A Look Back at a Day in French Infamy
As I liked to do, I stuck my head out of the window to inhale some of the city, the cafe below and maybe a hint of the dogshit that was surely not too far away. My roommate who was doing the same brought to my attention a black hatchback (of which you’ll see many in Paris) and a man who had just hopped out of it.
It was odd but no need in tripping out about it; I wasn’t stuck in traffic.
It was November 13, 2015, my 25th birthday and relatively normal day considering I was studying in France. Only thing that’d changed was the dog shit on the sidewalks, the inability to effectively communicate with the majority of people, and the ability to be in a new country after a one hour flight.
I poked my head back into the window and communicated with squad en route to my place, tracking ETA’s and what not. The plan was to pregame and head out to a hip-hop spot just a few kilos from my from my street side apartment in the 11th district.
It was then that my roommate came into the living area on the phone with his mom. There was a slight panic in his hipster tone.
“My mom is telling me there’s shootings happening around the city right now,” he said, still on the phone.
He was trippin’ right?! How could that be possible and why was it “shootings” in plural?
Another of my roommates, there were five of us in total, pulled up his laptop and confirmed the news. There had been several several shootings around the city and attempted bombings at the Parc de Prince stadium, where a friend of mine was taking the Germany v. France friendly.
Some were already dead. And friends were on the way to see me, some on subway, another on the train from Netherlands, and another, Charlie, in a car driving up my street, just steps away from the Bataclan, a live music venue.
I began doling out messages, telling people to get out of the trains and go the fuck back home. Except they didn’t get any service in the subway tunnels. My bro, on his way from Netherlands, had shut off the data service on his phone to save from being charged international fees and was unreachable. Wtf bruh?!
I ran outside my place to try and retrieve Charlie who was approaching. The streets were almost completely blocked off now and traffic was at a standstill. He was so close to me yet so far. The cops wouldn’t let him make the necessary turns to get to my place.
My roommate yelled at me from the apartment window to get inside but I couldn’t leave my dude stranded. Little did I know what was happening at the Bataclan just a stone’s throw away.
Two and three days before all of this began, I stood outside the Bataclan for extended amounts of time trying to get last minute tickets to Young Thug, one of the last poppin’ Rap acts I was yet to see. Tickets sold out and the resell was through the roof.
One guy I’m convinced struggled with at least slight mental illness promised me he could get me in for 40 euro.
“No fantasy,” he reiterated time and time again with an almost laughable French drawl trying to assure me he was the real deal. He even somehow made his way inside the venue shortly to retrieve his contact. He returned empty handed. I pretty much gave up. I decided instead to hit up the CHVRCHES show at another venue, Le Trianon, with a friend in the program.
What was initially the same price as the Young Thug show, I somehow got a ticket into the show for the price of: on the house. Must’ve been meant to be, I suppose. And CHVRCHES was dope, save for the point when their lead singer bashed on Americans for their poor eating habits to get a kick out of the crowd.
I walked back from the Trianon a few miles from my apartment, passing Bataclan on the way home. One of the resellers with whom I chatted earlier assured me it was a super sick show and while a little upset that I’d procrastinated on getting tickets since no one was down to roll with, it was what it was. He’d be back the next night anyway. I spent less time outside the venue the next day figuring out how I could get in at a reasonable price. I even tried to use my press juice as an American journalist to see if it could get me in but did so to no avail. This was as close as I’d ever to get to Bataclan.
Charlie eventually maneuvered his way back onto a moving street and was able to drive home. My bro made it to his hostel safe and the homegirls on their way to my spot had caught a cab and rushed back to their place in the 14th upon getting the news. That was a plus. And having all my roommates together was another. Scarier than anything was the uncertainty of the night and the fact that my homegirl was stuck in the stadium where the President had been earlier.
Death totals started releasing, the hostage situation was reported. Most of the hostages were held in the Bataclan. It was gut-wrenching to think how close I was to the direness of it all.
How could this happen in a concert venue; a place that had become my favorite pastime. This was terrorism. The venue never seemed further away. Yellow tape, hysterical people, state police vans, blood and death separated me. Safe houses were set up. One of them was the cafe directly beneath my apartment. What if they let more terrorist in by accident?!
What if someone let a terrorist into my apartment building and more terror commenced?
It’s still unclear how it exactly happened but news reported that cops were poised to move into the Bataclan. Sometime later (my whole perception of time was out the window with all the madness) a barrage of automatic fire let off. The city went quiet. I was quiet, sure of what’d just happened. And a sense of twisted calm came over me. Now what?
I sat at the window, now with a cup of a vodka mix poured, sending off messages and phone calls. My mom’s voice trembled. The need to assure people of my safety was exhausting.
I went off to sleep and woke to an empty, grey city. My bro came over to see me and in an attempt to be a host, we explored the city. “Don’t let them win” was the sentiment.
I got an email a few days later from Le Bataclan, which I had been physically and mentally avoiding since it’d all happened, regarding the tickets I had to Rae Sremmurd due in town in a few weeks. The thought of going inside the venue sickened me slightly. It was relocated though, and if brave enough to hit another concert, I could see them in north Paris.
Obsessed with concerts as I am, I went to the modern section of Paris and took in the Rae Sremmurd show. A hype one for sure. The duo made sure to send love and exhibit just how the effects of the shootings had reached over to them. Artists and spectators were affected alike.
Randomly, I ran into Charlie there. It was the first we’d get to talk at length since it’d all happened. The fact a show brought us back together was as charming as the city in itself.
For a second though, that was taken away from me and everyone else who takes refuge in concert venues around the world. Venues had become for me a place to be around like-minded people when the general public didn’t suffice. Live shows were a place to become as close to the art as you possibly could and watch it expressed as the artist intended. And for those moments when you could mosh and wild the fuck out at a show, live shows were cathartic and possessed healing powers.
I watched as the city tried to heal itself again just months after another terrorist attack which was, also, not a mile from my apartment. Eventually, I made it to the memorial site that I could see the whole time from my window, the same window through which I saw that trippy ass black car. At first, I took in just how many victims had been taken from us and how diverse their backgrounds were. Flags from Belgium flew on the fences bordering Blvd Voltaire. Also there were flags from Pakistan and Turkey, and I know an American student around my age had been slain in the shootings. It was rough.
Then though, I looked over and saw a young dude around my age on his knees in complete despair, weeping uncontrollably. He was alone. Naturally, I gravitated toward him to try and comfort or at least notify him that he wasn’t alone. Almost immediately after putting a hand on his shoulder, I was overcome. Paris’ pain had become my own and it was heavy. These heartless terrorist had tried to take from them what was so important to me; their affinity to enjoy life in a place like a concert venue.
Today, I walk around with the resolve to preclude any entity from stopping my enjoyment of life, concerts especially. Friday, November 13th and Paris taught me that. And while I could perhaps provide only some rebellion as a concertgoer after les attentats, France gave me a middle finger that I could flip to anyone trying to infringe on my or anyone else’s right to party.