Flowers, candles and messages of love mark the sites of the Paris attacks where survivors and mourners still congregate, two weeks after the massacres.

Place de la République, Paris, 26 November 2015.
Place de la République, Paris, 26 November 2015.

By Pauline Bock

Fresh flowers, candles and messages of love mark the sites of the Paris attacks where shaken survivors and mourners pay their respects at makeshift shrines and wonder what the future will bring.

“I think about it constantly,” said Anne-Marie Athanase, 47, a juridical assistant from a Paris suburb. “I am struggling to understand human nature. Frankly, I’m pessimistic.”

She had gravitated to the Place de la République, where faded posters at the base of a massive column in the center of the square still read “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), a slogan that was taken up after killings in Paris in January at French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Two weeks after the latest massacres that killed 130 people from 18 countries, hundreds of candles flicker under a defiant banner that reads “Même pas peur” (Not afraid). Letters, French flags and drawings of Marianne — the allegorical symbol of the French Republic — are piled near another sign that reads “Terrorists are not Muslims.”

Place de la République
Place de la République

The expansive Place de la République on the eastern side of the capital is a regular gathering point for rallies, demonstrations and ceremonies. The carnage earlier this month erupted on a mild, autumn evening in restaurants, cafés and a concert hall a short walk from the square.

Addressing the silent crowd on the square, an angry man denounces the killers: “Shame on them! They should all be shot!”

The man, named Raymond Fallait, was at the Bataclan concert hall that night, when 89 fans of the Eagles of Death Metal were shot dead by extremists with Kalashnikovs. Fallait, 58, escaped through the Bataclan’s basement.

“I saw them when they shot,” said Fallait, who is having trouble sleeping at night.

A poster with the name of the Eagles of Death Metal still hangs in the Bataclan’s front window. A bed of flowers, candles and notes has bloomed on the sidewalk.

“Young people, in 2015, in a city of freedom, losing their lives like this,” said Claudine, 67, visiting from the city of Tours. “In this hall, 89 victims. Can you imagine that? I can’t.”

Amaury, 24, is studying video editing in Paris. He came with his camera to shoot a short film about mourning Parisians. “People talk a lot,” he said. “They need to share their feelings. Some say we need to keep living the way we used to. Others say they are on edge, they keep an eye on strangers in the subway.”

Pierre, 80, a retired driving instructor from Brittany, said people have to carry on. “I’m sad, but it’s important that we don’t change anything in our way of life. Otherwise they’ve won.”

“Their hate, it won’t work.”

Daniel Poisson, 68, a human rights advocate, said that after the attacks he organized a debate with youth from the northern French city of Tourcoing to talk about what happened.

“Young people can be misinformed,” he said. “We need to work on education, to understand the problem at its base.”

Magdy, a 24-year-old Egyptian, came from Milan with his wife, Noemi. They had refused to cancel their holiday, planned before the attacks.

“I’m a Muslim,” Magdy said, “and my religion is not what they [ISIS] do, in Syria or in Europe. It’s unfair to Muslims. It’s not our religion.”

Noemi, 33, added: “My husband is a Muslim and I am a Catholic, and we’ve loved each other for a long time. What they’re trying to do, their (Islamic State’s) hate, it won’t work. I hope people will understand that.”

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