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An American In Paris

It was November, Friday the 13th of 2015. I was staying in Paris for the weekend. Just three days in this incredible country that I’d had an itinerary of things planned to do since I was twelve. I’d promised my parents, grandparents, friends that I’d visit the Louvre, travel to the top of Eiffel tower, bike over the lock bridge and sip champagne while eating snails.

I did go to the top of the Eiffel tower, and saw the Louvre along with the lock bridge, new and old! Now it may have been the outside of the Louvre but I wasn’t too disappointed. I still had the whole weekend at my fingertips. For that day I skipped the champagne but of course ate the snails with what I can only describe as the best bowl of French onion soup I ever had… probably because it was French.

I had plans to finish everything on that childhood dream list. It wasn’t until the evening that everything went awry.

I was there with two friends from Spain sitting on the streets of Paris at a bar, drinking something called a “sex on the beach.” Their recommendation of course, all I know is it had sprinkles and whip cream.

I felt this grip on my arm, strong and firm, dragging me out of my seat and throwing me through the door to the inside of the bar. I’m amazed the drink stayed on the table and didn’t explode on the ground in a flash of white and pink vodka.

Crossing the threshold it was like the world slowed down as I watched the same man pushing my friends inside, ushering others in too.

One minute I was sitting on a bar stool looking out at the twinkling lights of Paris and the next I was thrust into a whole new setting. This one filled with screaming, and hurried voices, and the doors and windows of the bar being covered and locked by the owner.

They corralled us further into the back of the bar. I must have sat in that boarded room for hours and yet I can’t describe the decoration or really the place, just the faces. The scared faces of all different kinds of people sitting at random tables.

They kept shushing us. Telling us to be quiet, "Taisez-vous!"

The owner left the bar television on mute so that we could see what was happening. No one needed to understand French when the tagline flashed on the screen; we were in the middle of a terrorist attack.

It took minutes. To our left down the street was the restaurant that had been shot up and to our right the concert hall that we thought we’d check out after the bar, which was being held hostage. Soon we found out about the bomb at the stadium. Sirens sounded outside the bar, screams could be heard from the streets but I kept my focus on the groups of people inside.

In one room you had people from all over the world. And its funny because at first we started out around table groups of our home countries, the French sat with the French, the German with the German, and so on. But as time passed, slowly we all started to come together. The French acted as translators for everyone. We stopped seeing any differences between languages or nationality just people who were very scared.

It took maybe a couple hours for the phone calls to start. My hands trembled as I pushed the call button. I’d been travelling around on my weekends off that at that point I hadn’t thought it necessary to tell my parents I’d be spending the weekend in Paris.

It was eleven in Paris so it was about two in the afternoon when my mom answered the phone.

I remember her starting off with where are you; you won’t believe what’s happening in Paris.

I remember how her voice cracked after I told her I was in Paris and she asked me how close I was to the attacks.

Of course in those situations you want to talk to your family, tell them that you love them but you know by the end you’re the one comforting them rather than the other way around.

Minutes later there was something happening at the front of the bar. Apparently the owner was freaking out. He wanted to go home to his family; no one could blame him.

That is until he decided to kick everyone out of the bar.

I called my parents one more time and basically said they’re kicking us out of the bar. I’m going to try and get me and the other girls to my hotel room; I love you, and goodbye.

Soon we were out on the street with another group of three American girls, one of which was having a meltdown. Unfortunately they were going one way and we were going the other. There wasn’t anything to be done.

We started down the street moving as quickly as we dared.

France had announced that all taxis were free for the evening that is if you could find an available taxi. I found ours in the middle of the street stopped at a stoplight. Naturally I ran out into the middle of the road planning to throw the door open. I’m sure I looked crazy which is why he locked the doors.

I proceeded to pound on the window until he cracked it and I showed him my hotel on my phone map yelling “ici.”

He gave in. I threw the door open and gestured for my friends to get in the taxi, to which one politely told me I was holding up the cars, as the light had turned green. I politely told her to get in the fucking car.

We kept our heads down, not that we thought we’d see anything but I really didn’t want to see anything. We made it to the hotel and the taxi driver demanding payment topped off the whole evening. There was no crying, when we got back, no talking, no changing, just laying on the bed and sleeping.

About two hours in we woke up to our phones ringing and realized we’d forgotten to mention to any of our families that we’d made it back to the room alive. So we did that. We told them we were okay at the hotel. And the number of victims that the news spouted slowly decreased from 90 to 17.

By morning we didn’t really feel like going out. At one point I was finally alone and with nothing better to do I turned on the news.

Barack Obama’s address flashed onto the screen. He was claiming how the US stands with all those affected and the weird bit about it, I really don’t remember starting to cry. It just sort of happened like I went away for a moment and when I came back I was a huge sobbing mess. So for that moment I let it happen, and it felt really good. Then that was that, the girls came back and I didn’t cry again. I think it was more relief than truly being upset.

And after it all I went on, two weekends after I went to Venice in Italy and so on.

When I tell people about my experience in Paris, there’s always a mixture of response. “I’m so sorry you went through that,” “you must have been so scared,” or “what an incredible thing to live through.” But after their response there’s always the same question, “would you ever go back?” And I think my answer surprised them every time because yes of course I would go back. I mean after it happened I definitely didn’t have the courage any time soon but now? Well I promised myself that glass of champagne and it’d be a pity to waste French wine.