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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Terror in Paris, on my doorstep - literally


            Mayhem right on the blogger's doorstep.
The ambulance pictured on the left blocks the
way to the blogger's home. On the right-hand side is the
street where took place the worst massacre France
has  know in over 50 years,
The day started quite oddly with so much mist and haze that Notre-Dame Cathedral was hidden behind an unusual wall of pea soup. Little did I suspect that the day would end with the famous cathedral tolling its bell.

Alone the whole day and working from home (one of the perks of being a freelancer  -except when you're on the road), I was so busy dealing with several things that I when I heard the loud bangs around 11:30 am I didn't pay much attention to them. After all central Paris, like all large metropolises, is so full of different types of noises that they barely register with you. I just thought, "Oh, I'm late, I should have gone out quickly to get some lunch."

It was over lunch (which I had at home, too busy to go out) that I heard the dreadful news. A terror attack had resulted in 12 deaths at a well-known French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, famous for the caricatures that drew the ire of radical Islamists. I knew vaguely that the magazine had its offices 10 minutes' walk from my place, although subconsciously, I also remembered that after being threatened they had moved somewhere else.
The entrance to the blogger's building. On the right you can see
where one of the shots fired by the killers went

The blogger taking a picture of the bullet
that went into a window right by the entrance
to his building a few minutes before he was due out.
Behind the blogger, heavy police presence guarding
Charlie Hebdo's offices
After an early afternoon conference call with a client, I went out to run some errands quickly before coming back for another meeting when, upon coming out of my building, I felt as if I had just stumbled upon a film set. Ambulances, TV crews, cops: pandemonium everywhere.  A neighbor mumbled something about "suspects" and I thought, "Oh, one of the killers must have tried to hide in the vicinity." I felt the cops were being a bit paranoid, though, since I had to show my ID to leave the cordoned off area and come back.  I asked one of the cops what the matter was, and his reply was a curt, "Just watch BFM" (a popular French TV station).

As soon as I came back home I turned the TV on to get more info and see what was the link between the massacre and my street. I flipped through several channels, and suddenly I felt something was not right. There was something weird about some of the pictures. They looked eerily familiar. I immediately hit the internet where I checked some pictures. And, then, my neurons connected. And I was shocked by the realization that...

...the murders had taken place on my doorstep! Literally.  I then remembered that about a year ago the street right across the entrance to my building had started getting the presence of a police car. I had asked around why, whether some VIP had moved in, but nobody I talked to knew. And every time I walk by, which is basically every day I'm in Paris, I see the police car and always make a mental note to find out who they are protecting.

Now I know. This is where Charlie Hebdo had moved. And without any publicity since there was no sign indicating their presence. That didn't prevent the killers from not only finding the location of the new office, but also picking the one day in the month  where all the main reporters gather around the editor.

The killers shot their assault rifles inside and outside the Charlie
office. On the streets they hit the blogger's building

Another thought hit me. 11:30 was the time when I had planned to go out but I was busy on a call that I had decided to go out later. I can only imagine what could have happened if I had crossed paths with the murderers. So easy to die of a stray bullet; I survived one in Rio de Janeiro, a couple of years ago (it flew two inches from my face), so I am probably down to only five lives now.

I immediately headed back downstairs just on time to see the French president with several of his Cabinet members walk by to pay their respects to the victims. To enter my building I had to walk around the large ambulance parked right in front of the entrance door: it had been used to ferry the dead and the injured.
Car parked right by the entrance door to my building which was
hit by the killers' car as they escaped - or came in. Some details
are still unclear. But the police forensics spent several hours
analyzing it in detail and scooping up all the evidence around

That's when I heard that among the dead were Wolinski and Cabu. Wolinski has been famous since my teen years for his comic strips, and Cabu was a talented cartoonist whom we hired at PeopleSoft in 2000 for the launch of Release 8.0. He entertained us through his quick-witted drawings during Craig Conway's presentation. The then CEO of PeopleSoft couldn't understand why throughout his presentation there were moments of undiluted audience hilarity until he'd turn around and look at the screen and catch, between his slides, a funny Cabu cartoon making a spot-on comment on the wonderful world of business software.

The day after at noon: one minute silence in front of the
Charlie Hebdo office. The blogger's building stands
behind the mourners
The rest of the day was of course lost to work as the neighborhood, family and friends, and the whole nation gathered to mourn the massacre France has thought will never happen.
Notre Dame Cathedral, here seen from the blogger's home,
 at midnight, as it begins to toll its bell for the day's victims.

A day to remember. And wonder if worse is to come. And some serious thinking about the implications of the event will have to made by political leaders.

(All pictures taken by the blogger. Free use allowed)

1 comment:

  1. Touchant, Ahmed. Merci d'avoir partagé ton ressenti de cette journée avec nous tous.