Sunday: we wake under blue skies to Nicolas Sarkozy calling for ‘the whole world’ to destroy Isis and demanding a ‘new’ immigration policy, as he steps away from a meeting with Hollande. Stern words on the first day of national mourning declared by the president. Last night Paris was half a city, maybe less. In the capital where the world’s first public audience paid to see a motion picture, the art house cinemas were closed like bakeries, the foyers of the multiplexes dark behind their plate-glass entrances. Few people on the streets, fewer on the metro: twenty passengers at most in a carriage on the Ligne 4; seven in a carriage on the little line from Châtelet to Mairie des Lilas. Nine o’clock, or thereabouts. One hundred and thirty dead, a hundred more with critical injuries in hospitals around the city: Lariboisière, St Louis, La Pitié-Salpêtrière, others.
Quiet, spontaneous commemorations of the dead brought small crowds together nonetheless: knots of survivors in a landscape where signs of life are much reduced. We are not supposed to assemble in public but we do. For some of the mourners it’s harder to stay indoors, following social media or watching television. On the rue Alibert in the 10th arrondissement, where gunmen killed at least 14 people in a café-bar, Le Carillon, and Le Petit Cambodge, a restaurant opposite, there were many visitors last night, the numbers swelling to a hundred or more, dwindling again as the night wore on: all sorts in a city of ‘diversity’, as the mayor, Anne Hidalgo has insisted.
The ritual offerings laid on the pavements in these haunted spaces, lit by hundreds of cylindrical night lights and bigger candles, were also various. A potted camelia with taut red buds; bunches of lilies, miniature roses, small, rusty chrysanthemums. Undistinguished drawings by children laid out flat, held down by the night lights. People have written what comes into their heads – ‘L’amour court les rues’ – and added to the pile. Outside Le Carillon a litre bottle of Kronenbourg glowed in the candle light beside a paperback translation of A Moveable Feast (Paris est une fête). A journalist from CBS had four, noisy warm-ups, always the same, that broke the silence while his technicians tweaked away: ‘The search for accomplices widens as Paris mourns...’
A gym teacher who lives in the area said she was relieved to be at the site of the killings. She spoke for a long time: this wanting to speak is a healthy sign. Staying at home with social media and television, she said, had left her frozen in a state of fascinated horror for most of the day. A young man, the son of parents who’d come to France from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the same: it was terrifying until you left the front door of your building and found your bearings. The rue Alibert is a good place for that.
We were joined by another mourner in his mid-seventies who showed us his ‘carte d’ancien combattant’ – he’d been a French conscript in Algeria in 1962 – and spoke quietly, with an elderly dismay, about the Front National, who stand to gain from the killings: that conversation will become more pressing after the weekend and the last day of national mourning. Regional elections take place early next month and Marine Le Pen is on the rise: the killers have handed her a frightening gift. The time’s come, she said in a statement after the massacres, for France to decide once and for all who are its friends and who are its enemies. She approves France’s new border controls, already partially in force as a preparation for the climate change summit in December. They look set to remain in place. But what of the state of emergency? The last, during the riots of 2005, went on for eight weeks, but it was confined to a handful of banlieues. That was before the word ‘war’ took on its proper significance: since last year France has carried out at least 250 air strikes over ‘the caliphate’.
We are no longer where we were on 7 January, when the rampage began at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The war has moved things on: Charlie’s editors were selected targets. As of Friday, we are all the enemy and these low-key gatherings beside bullet-scarred cafés or concert halls are no longer strictly memorial. The mood is apprehensive; the candles and flowers, the scribbled messages, are set out along the pavements like ceremonial devices to ward off another round of bloodshed.