The skies were gray and dreary in Paris on Saturday and a sense of deep sorrow -- along with a beating persistence of solidarity -- enveloped the streets as people tried to make sense of tragedy. A light rain came down at times, falling on the shoulders of those few who ventured outdoors and the heavier-than-usual police presence that patrolled the streets less than a day after a series of coordinated attacks took the lives of more than 129 people across the city Friday night.
The government advised people to avoid congregating in large groups, and national monuments were shuttered. Some private shops, too, kept their doors shut for the day in mourning. Still, some open cafes provided a connection to some glimpse of normalcy, a place for loved ones and friends to connect, check in and reassure one another of their safety in person.
“There’s a lot of solidarity. People are helping each other everywhere,” Julien Dumont, 36, who lives five minutes from the 11th Arrondissement, said. People were going outdoors, but they were still in shock, he said. There was still the fear that they would hear bad news about a loved one or a friend who was killed the night before.
The attacks began shortly after 9 p.m., local time, Friday, when gunmen in the 10th and 11th arrondissements pulled the triggers of their automatic rifles. A single shooter entered Le Petite Cambodge and opened fire, killing at least a dozen. A killer exited a car outside of La Belle Equipe and fired at the cafe. Dozens more dead. Explosions occurred near Stade de France, where France was hosting the German soccer team. At least four were killed in those blasts, which took place in a brasserie, a McDonald's and another fast-food restaurant.
In the deadliest of the six attacks Friday, gunmen entered the Bataclan concert hall, taking hostages and wielding incredible carnage before police stormed the building.
Dumont was attending the soccer game with his 6-year-old son when the blasts occurred. He described a confusing scene that followed in which many people were unaware of what was going on, and a worrisome several hours before he heard from his ex-wife that she was safe at home. She had met with friends near Le Petite Cambodge for drinks, and after the gunshots she huddled behind the locked doors of the bar.
The streets outside Le Petite Cambodge on Saturday were a display of that duality of mourning while struggling forward.
Jonathan Remple, 27, described the bizarre scene of tragedy and tranquility early Saturday. Shards of smashed windowpanes littered the sidewalk; sawdust faintly covered dried pools of blood. Bullets were lodged in the side of cafés and a laundromat. Yet bakeries on other blocks still flung open their doors, selling fresh pastries to passersby as if it was any crisp fall Saturday in Paris.
"It was really eerie. The streets were completely silent," said Remple, who spent part of Friday night hiding in a bar around the corner. He and 60 customers huddled in the dark until 1:30 a.m., when heavily armed police gave them a signal to leave. Saturday morning, returning to the scene, the streets "felt like a ghost town," he said. "You almost felt like the day didn't exist."
Muna Tseng, who was visiting from New York City, recalled a similarly surreal morning in Paris. After breakfast, she and her cousin walked down the left bank of the Seine River to the Rue Cler street market. "Life was very normal. People were buying their baguettes and cheese and wine," she recalled. "But when we went to the area of the attack last night, it was quite different."
Outside Le Petite Cambodge, Parisians quietly laid small memorials of flowers and candles. "People were hugging each other and crying. There was sort of this hushed sense of mourning. It was very quiet, very respectful and very moving," Tseng said. Around the corner, bars were packed with patrons. "It's human nature to want to be with other people," she said. "Lots of people were out and walking around. But with very heavy hearts."
France was placed in a national state of emergency following the attacks , and the borders were closed. French President Francois Hollande, who was at the soccer match but was ushered out following the explosions, sent 1,500 troops to beef up security in Paris. Police in the city were given greater leniency to stop further attacks, including arresting people for “suspicious” behavior, to seize weapons and to search individuals.
In spite of the bleak outlook and the fresh memories of tragedy, people in Paris contacted for this story described feelings of strength that accompanied their grief.
“It’s important that people know that we’re afraid, but we will not be pushed back,” Dumont said. “We are proud to be here.”