Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris - Timeout

I was just getting ready to write my next blog on Saturday morning when I saw the news on the attacks in Paris. We lived and worked in Paris for three years.  The last time, in 2007-8 when I was working with Novexel, a biotech in a Paris suburb, we rented an apartment in the 11th arrondisement where some of the attacks occurred. The apartment was on the 6th floor (7th for Americans) and looked out over the roofs of the city towards the Eiffel Tower. From our window on Avenue Parmentier, we looked out at the Voltaire metro station and the Mairie (town hall) for the 11th.  The Bataclan, where gunmen and suicide bombers killed at least 89 innocents, is just a few blocks down near rue Voltaire.

As we watched French television news (thanks to the internet), we were taken back to other attacks that are engraved deeply in our emotional history.  In 1995, as I was returning from work near Blvd St. Michel on my bicycle, I passed the scene outside the metro station just after one of the bombs from that August had exploded.  A bistro had been turned into a triage center. There were already several white-draped bodies on the ground. We resolved to stop taking public transportation – but, in reality, it was impossible to function in Paris on foot and bicycle. While the bomb attacks continued sporadically into September, we went about our daily lives like everyone else.  And, like everyone else, we became defiant and worried at the same time. Terrorists are called terrorists for this reason. In the grand scheme of things, they don’t destroy countries; they destroy lives, and for those of us remaining, a certain peace of mind.

We were in France on September 11, 2001. Friends were staying with us and had arisen very early that morning to take a train from Avignon, in the south of France, to Paris to catch their plane back to Phillie. That afternoon, our refrigerator repairman asked if we had heard that there had been some sort of accident involving a plane in New York. We had no television, but we did have an internet connection. We looked and were horrified. Not long after that, we got a call from our friends’ babysitter asking if they had left.  We asked when they were expected and she told us that they were due several hours ago.  She said that she had been able to get no information on their whereabouts.

We found out later that their flight, like many others, had been diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. They were welcomed by the citizens of Gander and taken to a religious camp outside of town where they spent the next six days without their luggage but with their carry-on items.  In their case this was a case of Burgundy wine. They still go back to Gander from time to time to reunite with their Newfoundland friends and others who had been diverted there the day of the attacks.

We returned to the US on the 16th – the first day that flights were allowed to go from Paris to Newark.  After we boarded, the captain came by to every passenger to personally ask if we were OK. On arriving, we flew over the smoking remnants of the towers.  On our drive home, we passed by the parking lot for one of the New Jersey PATH trains that takes commuters to New York every day.  There were scattered cars left by those who would never return home. Our home in the New Jersey suburbs was unchanged – but our lives would never be the same.

Watching French television over the weekend, all of these memories flooded back. We got on email and telephone to check with friends in France. So far, so good – everyone is OK including those living near the Bataclan and the caf├ęs where the attacks took place. Many will know someone, or will know someone who knows someone, who was killed or injured Friday night. No one will ever forget.

While I continue to be passionate in my belief that we need new antibiotics – I was just unable to go there this week.

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