Fraser Valley women describe an ‘eerie’ and tense Paris following attacks

'The mood was sombre but not defeated,' Abbotsford tourist says about mood in city.

People paid respect at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe following last Friday's terrorist attacks.

Megan Dirksen was out for dinner with friends Friday evening in a Paris restaurant when a new acquaintance, a local named Marie, checked her phone and brought her hands up to her face.

Hours earlier, Marie had told Dirksen – a Mission resident who had come to the city for a month-long vacation – that Paris never gets old.

“No matter how long you are here, you always discover something new,” she said

Now Dirksen looked on with concern, as Marie learned that her beloved city had come under attack by men bearing suicide vests and AK-47s.

Soon the phones of Marie and the rest of those at the group’s tables lit up as family members sought to get in touch and learn their loved ones were safe.

The group soon broke up and outside the restaurant, Dirksen and her friend were able to get a taxi with the help of their tour guide.

“As we waited, the city was at the deadest calm I have ever felt. Eerie is the word and I don’t have the words, only the feeling, to describe it.”

Dirksen said the sirens were continuous over much of the next 48 hours, and that police and military personnel were walking in groups and standing on many corners.

“The city of light and love is not feeling so good in this moment … You could see the heartache in Marie’s face for the upset of her city, the fear in Sebastian’s eyes, the innocence in Marta trying to get home, and the brave front Jorge put on,” Dirksen said of her dinner companions.

Although Dirksen had planned on staying until the end of the month, she has now cut her trip short and planned to arrive back in Mission on Wednesday.

• • • •

Just 30 minutes after Dirksen’s table was learning about the attacks, Michelle Sagert arrived in Paris on a Eurostar train. Sagert and her best friend, who both grew up in Abbotsford and now live in London, walked towards their rental apartment.

They heard sirens, but otherwise nothing seemed too out of place. Only when they got to their apartment did they learn what had taken place.

Sagert and her friend cancelled their plans to visit the Eiffel Tower that night and instead stayed in.

Sagert, who had been to Paris twice before, said people were still going about their lives the next morning.

“The mood was sombre but not defeated,” she said in an email. “Every Parisian we came across, we told them we were sorry for what had happened to their city and they all had the same response: It was awful, but Paris was their city and they weren’t going to stay inside out of fear.”

As Sagert and her companion toured the city, she said they felt safe due to the presence of armed police and military.

On Monday, Sagert and her friend went to the Arc de Triomphe, where people were paying respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some were in tears, while others sung the national anthem.

“We did feel a bit gauche going to tourist attractions and smiling for photos,” Sagert wrote. “But we tried to be respectful of the people mourning and simultaneously we didn’t want to stay inside out of fear. We carried on with our trip as usual. Maybe we picked up on the Parisian energy?”

She continued: “Paris is an amazing city and the people who live there could not have been kinder to us, even in a time when they needed compassion shown to them.”

• • • •

Carissa Youssef first learned of the attacks as she arrived in Paris Saturday morning to a clogged airport.

Youssef had just wrapped up a couple weeks of work in Uganda, and had taken a quick flight from Amsterdam to Paris to meet a friend.

But the city the Abbotsford resident arrived to Saturday morning was very different from the one she expected.

Security was high at the airport, and the name of each passenger was cleared through a computer, a process that took many hours.

“It was a bit of a wild arrival,” she said.

Once in the city, Youssef said she felt safe, but like Dirksen, described the atmosphere as “really eerie.”

“I had never been to Paris before, but my girlfriend kept shaking her head, saying ‘This is so strange.’”

Walking to her friend’s apartment, a bicyclist passed, tears streaming down his face. Shopkeepers were also crying.

“It was just a really solemn, sad place.”

Youssef was set to leave Monday morning, but with a curfew in place and transportation still spotty, she opted to stay at the airport, which had a massive military presence.

“It was just a real tense environment.”

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