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Bataclan, a year later: Parisians struggle with memories of attacks (+video)

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The Monitor's Paris bureau chief revisited a bistro just across the street from one of the attack sites, finding a lingering sense of disbelief and disquiet.

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    A commemorative plaque is seen in front of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, during a ceremony Sunday held for the victims of last year's Paris attacks. The attacks, which targeted the Bataclan concert hall as well as a series of bars, left 130 people dead.
    Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool/AP
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It was almost a year ago that we walked into a quaint local bistro that bore witness – just across the street – to the indiscriminate shooting of 15 people dining and drinking on a street corner of Paris.

That evening, called “Tous Au Bistro” (“Everyone to the Bistro”), was Paris’s way of calling its inhabitants to stand up to the terrorism that had just days earlier taken the lives of 130 people. Friends and I joined the movement.

As Paris comes together to mark the terrorist attacks of last Nov. 13, Stephane Dantier, the owner of the Bistro des Oies, says he feels, like so many others who lived through the attacks, that time since has passed in a vacuum.

“It doesn’t feel like a year ago,” he says. “It feels like two weeks ago.”

Over the last 365 days, France has experienced unspeakable loss. Survivors of the Paris attack, some still hospitalized, talk about an instinct to flee when they hear loud noises, looking nervously at strangers behind them, about the need to contemplate outside the Bataclan – the venue that was the worst hit – and yet still fearing to walking inside.

The attacks here brought many together, in the form of support groups and neighborhood associations – including one in this quarter where Le Petit Cambodge restaurant and Le Carillon bar, across the street from Mr. Dantier's bistro, were targets.

Then the progress made was rolled back with the attacks just 8 months later in Nice, where 86 people were run over by a terrorist behind the wheel of a big-rig truck. Islamophobia, political uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic, a continued state of emergency, and the risk of more terror have marked the era.

In many way, Paris lives the way it always has. “Tous Au Bistro” probably need not have even been organized. Parisians naturally flock to their cafes and shoebox eateries. After the Nice attack, the city’s beachfront promenade, Paris Plage, opened along its river and canal, and was packed. The crowds of Paris, often infuriating, also feel like a triumph.

The Bataclan reopened last night, with a performance by Sting, who in flawless French said his performance shared two goals: to honor the dead and to celebrate the rebirth of the venerable nightclub, which he played in 1979.  Across the city, at each attack site, the city today has unveiled plaques honoring those who died.

When we sat down for duck at Bistro des Oies last year, it was with a sense of defiance, a desire for hope to prevail over fear and isolation. It was the kind of night where diners strike up conversations with perfect strangers. I keep in touch with one of them, a Basque journalist who was sitting alone to my right. We all felt we were in it together.

A year later, as we walked through the doors, the same waiter, wearing the same beret, welcomed us to sit down. His heart was in ways heavier. He says it is too early to put up plaques, like the one that has gone up outside their door. “A plaque is for something of the past, a long-ago war,” he says. “This is not our past. We are still in it.”

The ceremonies today will culminate in lanterns being lit and set sail along the canal that is just steps from the Bistro des Oies. Dantier didn’t consider opening the restaurant for the occasion, he says. In fact, most of the neighborhood has opted to go away this weekend. “We don’t want this to be a place where people come to mourn death,” he says.

But he says he is keeping his shutters up, with lanterns lit inside, to show that they will never forget.

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