PARIS — It’s too soon for Canadian Julia Colucci to return to Rue Bichat, a street lined with brasseries and bars she used to frequent.
Colucci, a 23-year-old Toronto native whose spent about six years studying in Paris, lives just around the corner from the intersection where at least 10 people were gunned down — one in a handful of attacks that shook Paris Friday night.
“These are places I’ve been to a lot and I don’t want it all to have to be true, that this happened in my neighbourhood. It feels very invasive,” Colucci told Global News.
On Friday, three teams of ISIS attackers targeted a national stadium, a rock concert and four nightspots with gunfire and suicide bombs. At least 129 people were killed and another 350 were wounded.
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Colucci was on Rue Bichat — the streets that house two restaurants that were peppered with gunshots — hours before. While at home, she heard the roar of gunfire, followed by piercing screams.
“We weren’t really sure what it was,” Colucci said. A journalist friend texted her shortly after, advising her to stay indoors — a mass shooting occurred just outside her apartment.
Colucci and her friends guessed that it was gang-related, or a robbery gone wrong. When they looked online, they realized the shooting was one in a string of targeted attacks.
She calls Saturday, “the worst day.”
“We realized the weight of what had happened. Everyone knew it was a terrorist attack and that’s when everything started to sink in,” she explained.
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Place de la Republique — where thousands of locals gathered to hold candlelight vigils following the shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo last January — was “fragile,” she says.
By Sunday evening, as hundreds gathered at the square, what sounded like gunshots caused crowds to flee, stepping on candles, flowers and messages along the way. It was a false alarm.
“It’s so beautiful to have a mass gathering, but then to see everyone run for their lives at seemingly nothing is illustrative of a city that is so strong but still so fragile and can quickly shatter,” Colucci said.
“We want to be strong, no one wants to succumb to the fear they want us to feel, but we are all secretly shaking inside,” she said.
Guillaime De Langre, a 24-year-old Parisian, says that the French are raised according to the country’s motto: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” or freedom, equality and brotherhood.
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He suggests the attacks on French cafes, as locals sat on patios, is symbolic. The French terrace is where people convene, over coffee, lunch or drinks after work.
“Everyone knows so much of daily life involves getting a coffee and sitting on a terrace. It’s highly symbolic that they attacked here, it’s our liberty and our freedom and enjoying life for what it is,” he said.
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Last weekend was chilling for De Langre. The streets weren’t bustling and the subway was empty.
“The whole city felt just silent, I’ve never seen Paris like this,” he explained.
But from it came unity. It’s the first time in months that De Langre says he struck up a conversation with the people next to him. His neighbours looked him in the eye instead of shuffling by while staring at their phones or at their feet.
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“We’re not a very optimistic group of people, and we so often forget about what we have,” he said.
“It’s in these moments that we feel together again. We feel patriotic,” he explained.