Sunday, November 15, 2015


Under an eerily-dark Tour Eiffel, tourists pose for photographs as police sirens echo through the arrondissements.

Millions before them have taken exactly the same images, but when these people look back on their souvenirs, something will be missing.

The tower still dwarfs those meandering beneath. It's still stunning. But its famous lights no longer illuminate the grey sky above. It is a shadow.

"It's like it's dead," one tourist from Belgium says.

"Nobody is here. It's grey and I have a very strange feeling - I'm a little bit scared."

The city is numb from the deaths of over 100 people in six coordinated terrorist attacks the night before.

The sirens, which started as hundreds of officers rushed to respond to a complex and very fluid series of massacres late Friday, haven't stopped since.

As news of the attacks spread, the streets became a confusing and increasingly desolate place.

Districts that would normally be alive with the buzz of crowds heading from one restaurant, one club, one landmark or theatre to the next, are muted.

Parisians peek through apartment windows above the streets as strangers share information while rushing along foothpaths. It wasn't just a matter of giving directions and being helpful anymore, it was a matter of safety. There is a sense of urgency in reaching your destination.

Inside one bar close to the attacks, a TV broadcasting news of the unfolding horrors provides the sole soundtrack for a venue that would normally be filled with conversation and laughter. Customers sit staring. A woman pokes her late-night snack on her plate with a spoon, her appetite probably lost as her mind processes what is happening.

Police quickly set up a large exclusion zone and yell at anyone who comes close, signalling detours with weapons. They are rightfully on edge. Authorities warn everyone to stay indoors, but as Metro stations progressively close, finding your way there becomes difficult.

For tourists, language barriers that previously fuelled mere inconvenience instead stir stress and despair.

An online campaign from residents offering to temporarily house anyone stranded on the streets provides relief for lost visitors.

Throughout the night, the scale of the attacks becomes clearer. Well over 100 dead. Seven extremists killed, six of whom blew themselves up. Suicide vests. Open fire in restaurants. Kalashnikov rifles. The numbers, and the headlines, are staggering. The blatant and public nature of the acts defies belief.

On Saturday, the enormous police presence and the absence of the usual crowds turn Paris - one of the world's busiest tourist cities - into a near-ghost town. The wind is biting but the atmosphere is worse.

Museums, tourist attractions, schools and universities, gyms and markets are closed. Large gatherings are banned amid a declared state of emergency and events are cancelled. Visitors are advised by their hotels to stay indoors. There is no point being outside anyway - the city is in shock and in no state to entertain guests.

Barriers set up around the scenes of the attacks hold back the world's media as police stand guard. Later in the day these are removed and the proof of what has happened there - bloodstains, deserted belongings inside - is confronting.

Hundreds of those who do make their way outside pay their respects at the scenes of the murders.

At Le Carillon bar in the 10th district, a quiet candlelight vigil is held at the door. The building is visibly damaged by bullet holes.

International neighbours offer support at the beginning of France's pain.

"L'Argentine est solidaire avec la France dans sa douleur," one card reads.

Some leave flowers. Some people weep. Others just stand and stare. A teenage boy on a bike is frozen as he takes it all in.

A handful of Metro stations remain closed while the police investigation continues.

Everyone seems nervous.

Halfway between deserted stations, a power blackout plunges the carriages into darkness. Passengers are reassured by an announcement from the driver, but it's obvious anything out of the ordinary is a cause for concern.

Back at the Eiffel Tower, the usual street merchants are still pedalling cheap souvenirs.

A small carousal near the base of the landmark outshines its giant neighbour. Parents watch their children on the ride and I wonder whether they're thinking the same thing as me: it's hard not to be envious of someone who's oblivious to the wider implications this weekend has delivered.