Paris aftermath: They attacked culture – music and revelry

Attacks clustered on 10th and 11th arrondissements, known for the best nightlife

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A woman holds a crucifix as she sits on the pavement opposite the main entrance of Bataclan concert hall. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“I was supposed to be there on Friday night,” says Aurélie Bonnecarrère (28), her voice faltering as she gestures past the police cordon to the Bataclan’s colourful facade. “I had a ticket but couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go. It was pure chance.”

The crowd that gathered for a minute’s silence on Boulevard Voltaire has begun to thin out, leaving behind dozens of flickering candles and piles of flowers on the roadside. But Bonnecarrère stays put, sitting alone on the kerb, her eyes locked on the concert venue where many of her friends died.

The crowd that gathered in the Bataclan on Friday night belonged to “my world,” she says, pushing back tears. As a music journalist with the webzine French Metal, she knew the scene intimately.

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“All my musician friends were there, everyone in the music world I know. Concerts are my life – I go to about three a week. It’s unbearable. I’m speechless.”

Parisians have been badly shaken by the massacres that left 129 people dead on Friday night, but the pain has been particularly acute in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, in the northeast of the city. It was here, in a compact area known for some of the best nightlife in Paris, that three mass shootings, a suicide bombing and a siege that ended with 89 people killed at the Bataclan all took place in the space of just two hours.

In selecting the area, the attackers were not targeting public buildings, the security services or tourists. They were striking at the heart of the city’s vibrant east – a place where, in contrast to the richer, more buttoned-up neighbourhoods in the west – the streets are brimming with bars, cafés, night clubs and concert venues.

“They were attacking culture – music, celebrations, everything fanatics don’t like,” says Marylise, a middle-aged local woman who says her two sons were regulars at the Bataclan.

Left-wing bastion

The 11th is “BoBo”, or bourgeois bohemian, Paris; a relatively mixed but tightly knit neighbourhood that soaring rents have made increasingly expensive as a place to live (students, artists and young families are as likely to move further to the east or the north) but which has managed to retain its attraction as a place to go out.

In a city where whole districts can turn ghostly quiet after 7pm, the parts of the 10th and 11th where the attackers struck – Boulevard Voltaire, rue de Charonne, rue Alibert – are guaranteed to be packed on a Friday or Saturday night.

“You have so many options for places to go out here. You can come and find people you know in every bar,” says Caroline Grimaud, a teacher who lives in the city’s western suburbs but had come to the 11th to join the minute’s silence.

It’s a left-wing bastion, where the Socialist Party gets one of its highest votes in the city and where, in the 2012 presidential election, François Hollande won 68 per cent of the second-round vote against Nicolas Sarkozy (Hollande’s national share of the vote was 52 per cent).

Where the 10th meets the 11th is Place de la République, an important symbolic meeting point for trade unions and a popular departure point for left-wing demonstrations.

It’s not the first time violence on a large scale has struck the neighbourhood.

Rue de Charonne, where one of the shootings happened on Friday, was the site of a 1962 police massacre of eight people who were demonstrating for Algeria’s independence from France.

The Charlie Hebdo office, where 11 people were killed by Islamist militants in January, is less than a five-minute walk from the Bataclan.

Friday’s multiple attacks have hit people even harder – not only because the death toll was higher but because they were indiscriminate. The profile of the victims is different, too.

Densely packed

While the core of Charlie Hebdo’s editorial staff was made up of soixante-huitards who came of age in the political battles of late 1960s, the faces that looked out from the pages of French newspapers yesterday were predominantly those of young people in their 20s and 30s. They were also cosmopolitan: the list of the dead includes names such as Ayad, Alexander, Didier, Calciu, Diakité, Gonzalez, Houd, Moulin, Sahbi and Jozic.

“Everywhere that was attacked, either everyone knows it personally or had friends there,” says Xavier Merveille (25), a student whose friends managed to flee the Bataclan uninjured on Friday night.

“I know one person who lost a friend there. Everyone is affected in some way. I have friends all over France who are telling me they know people who were there.”

Merveille is keen to stress his solidarity with France’s Muslims. “France isn’t a religion or a single skin colour,” he says.

Further west, on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement, is the crossroads where rue Alibert meets rue Bichat. It was here that two men pulled up in a black Seat car at 9.25pm and sprayed bullets at the Petit Cambodge restaurant and the Carillon, a popular bar run by a local Algerian.

“I wouldn’t think it was totally by chance. It’s a perfect target up here,” says Kevin Lovett, who runs the Cork & Cavan pub just around the corner from the scene of the shooting.

“It’s the most densely packed terrace in the area. You have three restaurants together, and there’s space to move. They (the attackers) couldn’t get boxed in – if the police arrived they would have had to block four roads to stop them getting out.”

Lovett, who is originally from Cobh in Co Cork, has lived in the area for 15 years, a period in which he has seen the place transformed.

Hid in Irish pub

“Fifteen years ago there was nobody. You didn’t see anybody on the streets. It was dead, and there was a lot of trouble. Now people have discovered it,” he says.

Today, the area is full of young parents pushing prams and cafés that specialise in long weekend brunches. In summer the canal banks are crammed with people having picnics or sharing a bottle of wine. An apartment with a view of the canal can cost more than €9,500 per square metre. “The place is full of good people having fun, and that’s good for business,” he adds.

When the shooting began around the corner on Friday night, Lovett and his staff brought everyone into the pub and shut the doors.

“We were afraid but we didn’t know what to do. My barman had a hurley. I said, ‘that’s going to be an awful lot of help’. But we didn’t want to create panic.”

He admits to having been concerned but insists he is not afraid. “What can you do? We’re a bit exposed here, but do you stop and close everything down?”

It’s a sentiment shared among many of those who gathered in silence at memorials to the dead across the 10th and 11th arrondissements yesterday. “I’m careful, but I’ve been careful since the attacks in January,” says Merveille. “It won’t stop me from going out, going to concerts. I think that’s the best response we can give them. We’re not going to stop living.”

Irish Times