Stories Travels

Memories From The Paris Terrorist Attacks 11/13 2015

Reminiscing last Friday, 11/13 before everything turned into a nightmare, I will share with you how my world view was completely and utterly changed!

This post was originally written in November 2015, one week after the Paris Terrorist Attacks.

Friday November 13th 2015,

I was in Paris for the Airbnb Open 2015.

It was Friday, around 7pm, I text my friend Iben; “Wanna meet up by Republique?” (that was the only area I knew, since my Airbnb home was there). She responded: “Saint Paul”, I obeyed her, didn’t care, I could do anything, go anywhere I was high on life after spending two full days in Paris, attending the event that Airbnb was hosting for their community around the world.

I came to Saint Paul, Iben was tired from too much wine the night before, I thought to myself; wine is apparently IN here…I need to learn how to drink wine. We went for the famous Kebab, walked along the narrow streets of Le Marais, we passed people sitting outside eating cheese and drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, enjoying life, in the now. I remember thinking, I wanna be like them, cool and beautiful…drinking wine and eating cheese, luckily I am good at eating cheese. We went inside, because we were cold, so we wanted to sit inside, unlike everyone else. We sat by the bar, sipped red wine and nibbled black olives, felt so chic and cool.

My phone is dying, so I ask the bartender to charge it, she is nice, she smiles and I instantly like her, she smiles and she speaks to me in English, I like this one, I wanna be like her. I should wear more lipstick and wear my hair down — like her. We finish the wine and Iben goes: “Do you want more wine or should we go all in and get a glass of champagne?” She let’s me choose, she is so sweet, I go: “Champagne” — I don’t really know what she means by “all in” but I think to myself…it’s probably because champagne is more exclusive than wine and I join her decision, I can tell she is excited!

We’re halfway through the champagne when I look at the wall by the kitchen entrance…I admire the old vintage calendar, I go: “Look, it’s Friday the 13th!” Iben is not listening, she’s on her phone, her brother is texting her: “Are you ok?” “That’s weird, he never texts me”, she raises the champagne glass takes a picture and hits send, she instantly gets a reply back from her brother: “2 dead, 4 injured!” Iben reads it out loud, I remember thinking, it’s probably just a stupid shooting, like those shootings we have at home, on occasion, stupid kids. The bartender is on her phone, I’m watching her, because she’s so pretty, and she speaks French – and English, wish I could speak French like her…she is talking on the phone, she seems agitated, biting her nails and her eyes look scared. She hangs up, sighs and goes back to serving beer and wine. Iben is on her phone, she is checking the Danish news, confirming her brother’s text, she reads out loud: “Shootings….Paris…Dead…Injured” I don’t remember the words exactly, I try to make contact with the bartender and waiters, they are all busy, all on their phones or talking to each other, I raise my voice, “Excuse me, could you please pass me my phone, thank you?!” I point to the charger, another girl hands me the phone, she seems nervous.

“Even though I don’t speak French, I know something is up.”

I check the news to confirm what I see and hear. A missed call? This time from a French number? Two voice messages? I check my voicemail, one is from Jeff Sharlet – a journalist trying to reach me earlier and one is from Sarah my Airbnb host in Paris. Her voice scares me, she sounds desperate, scared and frightened. “Ulla this is Sarah, something is up by République, shootings, don’t go outside, are you home, be VERY careful, call me please!”

I am scared, I call her instantly, Elizabeth, my other host picks up, her English is better, she warns me and tells me not to go home, asks me where I am and I tell her that I will go to a friends house in Saint Germain tonight and stay with her. They tell me they are in the south of Paris and they will stay there tonight as well.

Iben and I are discussing what to do, the shootings are everywhere, around République, where I’m staying, and we are in the street close by, the police sirens have been going on for a while now, ambulances, people inside the bar are all on the phone, talking, trying to figure out what’s going on. We are no longer strangers, we are all in there together.

I get a message from Sophie my Airbnb guest from Paris who is staying in my home back in Copenhagen, she is worried, “Ulla something is up by République, be careful!” in that same moment, I receive an email from Airbnb HQ warning us about the incidents. I feel loved, cared for.

I send my Dad and my brother a message, “I am ok.”

We meet two of Iben’s friends who happen to come by, they just heard, they are scared as well, how should we get home? Should we take the metro, it’s closed…taxi or Uber? One of the girls requests an Uber, it’s still around, even though the taxis have vanished off the streets, everybody is calling someone they know to come pick them up, I think to myself, we can’t do that…Iben keeps saying we should bike…I don’t wanna bike, I don’t wanna be out on the streets, I’m scared and I’m thinking that being inside, protected in a car is way better, I hope the Uber is on its way! I can’t believe the Uber driver would come here…maybe he doesn’t know what’s going on yet…?! I hope he doesn’t so he shows up! I feel bad for thinking this.

My dad hasn’t replied to my message, it’s Friday night, I know he’s not asleep, so I call him. I go: “Hi dad, I just wanna let you know that I’m ok.” He’s like, “That’s great.” His voice is normal, I bet he’s watching Victor Borge, he loves that man. I was right, I go: “Dad, there’s been a shooting in Paris, but I’m ok.” His voice is still pretty normal: “That sounds terrible, I’m glad you’re ok.” Finally I’m like: “DAD, TURN ON THE NEWS!” He’s like, “ok ok” we hang up. One minute later he texts me: “OH MY GOD, I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE OK!!!”

Friends back home start texting me, my inbox is exploding. All of a sudden the bar kicks us out, they say they have to close, we are outside and we still haven’t decided how we are going to get home, sirens, police cars, lights, ambulances, cars, scooters driving furiously into the night and the Uber never shows up, finally Iben’s friend stops a random car on the street with a crying pregnant woman inside and another guy driving, asking them to take us to the river, we jump in — the best friend’s boyfriend of the crying woman has been shot in the leg at the Bataclán Concert Hall where people are held hostage and being shot. We drive to the river, I’m in the back, we are four people and we are all scared. We drop off Iben’s friend at her house and we get out a bit further along the river and we start walking from here…my pulse is racing, my heart is beating it feels like it’s gonna explode and I am on my phone, checking the news…20 dead, 40 hostage, 40 dead, 60 hostage…more shootings. Sirens ALL OVER THE CITY…Iben doesn’t seem scared, but I am terrified.

We finally reach Saint Germain, where she lives and we decide to get a glass of wine at the local bar to calm us down, frankly, I just wanna go home, get inside, I don’t feel safe being outside, but I join Iben and we sit down.

The waiter is charming, French with a heavy accent, I can’t decide if I think he’s good-looking or not, he’s a bit arrogant, he doesn’t seem scared at all. We ask for the Sancerre red wine, waiter shakes his head…”No no no, you don’t drink Sancerre red wine.” He’s cocky, but he’s probably right, I don’t know anything about wine, Iben asks me: “Should we go for the a glass of white wine or champagne?” That champagne again, she must really like that stuff, I like white wine, so in a failed attempt to act like I know a thing about wine, I go for the white ,  Sancerre of course. Iben doesn’t seem to agree, but done is done, the waiter is happy.

Just as he pours the wine, the waiter asks: “Do you know where the Sancerre is from?” I go: “Denmark!”, I think he says, Where are you from? I don’t listen, I’m still anxious, I can still hear sirens from the streets. A group of Spanish speaking people are sitting by the table next to us, another skinny, French waiter is trying to communicate in Spanish, he’s says: “Does anyone speak Spanish?” I look up, I just heard the word Spanish and I jump to their table. They are from Argentina, they don’t have a clue what’s going on, so I tell them, they have been walking around trying to find a place to have dinner, but everything’s closed and they kept hearing sirens, so I explain and they look worried. Their flight home is tomorrow. Finally the cocky waiter comes back and he tells us to leave as the police has ordered them to close as well, he still doesn’t seem nervous, just shakes his shoulders. We ask for paper cups, Iben is surprised, the wine is €24 “Jesus that’s the most expensive wine ever” I just wanna leave, go home, indoor, feel safe. Finally Iben asks the waiter to buy two tonic waters and she goes: “I think I have some gin at home” I loosen up a bit and smile back at her  “I love gin!”

We go to bed at 4am after watching the news for hours, no gin, just the news, calls and texts from family and friends.

I wake up the next morning 11/14 with an entirely new perception of the World — it has indeed been a transformational 24 hours in Paris, good and bad. Is man kind? I don’t know…but I don’t believe you can kill ideology, these killers died for just that.

 I remember 11/13…the sirens and the noise will stay with me forever.

Is mankind? I hope so, I have faith

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