The city of Paris has permanent plaques and signs with descriptions of historical events and people in each memorable place. 50 Boulevard Voltaire, about a 10 minute walk from Place de la République, has two.
The first is worn from years of weather, similar to the others in the city with the title engraved in red “Histoire de Paris.” It tells the reader that this address holds a building called the Bataclan. Designed in 1864, this building was a café and dance hall in a Chinese style with a pagoda roof. Best known for vaudeville performances, it became a venue for rock concerts in the 1970’s. Historic and well known, the Bataclan was a constant for Parisians, like the Notre Dame or Eiffel Tower.
The second plaque is simpler. Gray marble engraved in somber black. Without time for history to weather its engravings, it looks brand new. In reads simply “En memoire des victimes assassinées et blessées en ces lieux le 13 Novembre 2015” or “In memory of the victims assassinated and hurt in these places November 13th 2015.” This sign doesn’t reflect a long standing tradition and pride in a unified history. It doesn’t show relics of the past that continued and evolved to still be relevant today. It shows anger and fear, pain and sadness.
On November 14th 2016, there are piles waist high of bouquets of flowers in all colors and types gracing the front of the Bataclan. There are tea lights flickering and dissolving in the wind. There are notes, there are pictures, there are colors seeping off pages wet from the rain into the stream that leads into the mass of flower petals and wax. Poems and memories and physical representations of the sadness, the vrai tristesse that the people of this city have gone through.
There are people there too — people like me. Taking photos, paying respects. Wishing we had answers and ways to calm the fears of the world and yet knowing we have none. Viewing memorials and reading names and taking pictures because we have no other way to show our solidarity, to show that we wish we could have been here, that we almost wish it was us instead. Because heaven help those who fly away, but heaven help those who are left to stay and place blame.
Down the street at Place de la République there is a memorial with the same never ending flags and flowers, candles and messages. I spend a few minutes helping two girls my age re-light the lights that we think might have a chance of surviving the punishing wind. Leaning one tea light above another, shielding the flickering flame with our chests. Hoping to reignite a tiny light in the dark world that comes after the hour long state memorial ends, after the reality sets in, after the fear takes over hearts and the electoral damage is done.
Place de la Républic has a history too. Created in 1811 and named to create a sense of unity and pride in the French republic itself, the personification of fraternité, égalité, and liberté graces the center in the form of Marianne holding an olive branch. An olive branch. For peace. For national pride. But above all, for peace. This place has held protests. It has held organizations, events, markets, groups of skateboarders and intellectuals. It has held millions of mourners, leaders of governments and foreigners like me in moments of national pain. Whether for free speech or solidarity against extremism, this square has seen its fair share of large groups. But on 14 November 2016, its just me.
Well, me, and the other hundred people milling about. Eating dinner, reading books, skateboarding recklessly. This ground zero goes on. This place continues. Its history has changed, changed for good and not for the better, but it will go on.
We cannot give into fear. Historical markers do not get placed to terrify us about our future. Historical markers are placed so that we are informed. That our curiosity is picked so we can learn from our past to create a better future full of love and support and hope for an even better future for those who come after us. Because no matter how scared we are, the world does go on. We need to be ready.