I left Paris in 1987, after one too many terrorist attack had again hurt the capital so bad that my spirit was damaged to the point of no-return. We had military in the subways, sometimes closing down a few stations to make sure no plot against the rails were going to be carried out. Anybody with a backpack was stopped and checked.
I was sometimes late for work as there was no way of telling if my métro ride was going to be accessible. The sight of heavy weapons in our ordinary lives was quite unsettling. The city looked like a war post in a grim society. The fear that gripped all citizens was tangible.
It was then that the city removed all its rubbish bins in the streets, to replace them with transparent plastic bags held with a simple metal device, so, in theory, no more bombs would be placed in them. Checkpoints were scrutinizing citizens and checking our identities constantly. Profiling was at its worst in the streets, in public places.
Many security measures were implemented in department stores, restaurants, schools, and offices. This is when a restaurant blew up in a posh neighborhood, when a train was hijacked and people killed. When a popular department store full of young children was blown to pieces, killing many.
This was when the Berlin wall was still standing. This was the capital of France, country of liberty, land of the free. One day as I was walking on the famed Champs-Elysées avenue, a highlight of any tourists' visit, a shopping gallery exploded nearby, when a record shop at its end was bombed.
A fireman found me a few yards from there, disoriented and deaf, talking to me like I would understand, when I could not hear him. A piece of glass from a store window was stuck in my cheek, and he was asking me to walk with him to the paramedics' truck to get help. I had not felt the explosion, I was unaware of my surroundings. I was shaking for two weeks after that. My eardrums were vibrating for days.
This was after the Chernobyl tragedy a year prior, when the nuclear disaster took place, damaging the fission plant and wounding workers there. The cloud of nasty gas came hanging over Europe, creating health problems in Paris and everywhere in Europe. I had terrible headaches. Some friends had bleeding noses. My cousin vomited for weeks.
I had two small children and was escaping every possible weekend to Brittany, to breathe again the good air of the ocean, to see the blue sky and feel safer. There was no terrorism in Brittany. When my boss at that time asked who wanted to move to Miami to open a new agency for our business, I quickly volunteered. I was out of there. I wanted to escape the fear.
Twenty five years later, I am still in the U.S. I return each summer to the city that I love. I still feel the frustration in Parisians souls. People are scared, people are fed up. Yes, it is a beautiful city and will always be. Despite the terrorism acts, the racial tension, the profiling issues, the inequalities and the poor quality of life compared to the United States, French people demonstrate resiliency throughout wars, attacks, bad politics and a certain amount of social servitude. They push on and enjoy life.
For me, I like it from afar. Maybe one day, I will return to the socialist country with plenty of measures to help citizens. But I feel free in my adopted country, a feeling I lost during too many acts of savage pain and personal loss. I do feel safer in America, despite obvious risks possible anywhere on the planet.
Today I sob from the loss of so many great talents at Charlie Hebdo. I knew those guys, they were fiercely resistant to anything conventional. They were happy artists with always a twinge in their eyes. They had humor and anarchy on their minds, they showed it in their drawings. They are now silent, but others will take over. Their spirit is not dead. They were the ultimate "baba-cool."