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In Paris


A poster outside the Bataclan

A poster outside the Bataclan

The controlled explosion at the Gare du Nord just after noon on Saturday was loud enough to sound as if it wasn’t controlled, but when nothing happened – shards of glass from the roof of the train shed did not fall on our heads, the station was for a few seconds absolutely and reassuringly silent – everyone carried on as if nothing had happened.

I was on my way to lunch with friends before the rugby at the Stade de France – France v. Italy. The explosion was mentioned briefly at our table, then swiftly forgotten. ‘Allez les bleus,’ was the cry at the ground, only it was the Italians who were in blue; France was in a complicated new tricolour strip. Italy might have won with a drop goal opportunity in the closing seconds, but the French were victors (23-21) on a day when it was widely said to be important for France to win: it was the first time the gates of the stadium had been opened since 13 November, and the seats were almost all taken. President Hollande showed up again to drive home the message.

Long queues, extra security checks, a bigger detail of paramilitary CRS than usual: the spectacle of ‘response’ is a familiar feature of the war on terror. Everyone in New York at the time remembers the fighter planes over Manhattan on the afternoon of 11 September 2001. Something about the controlled explosion at the Gare du Nord made you wonder whether it wasn’t simply a matter of the state letting everyone know it was doing its job.

lady unicorn mirrorThe day after the match, I went for a walk to see some expressions of French state and religious power, from the Sainte Chapelle – which is in the Palais de Justice – to the Musée de Cluny, on to the Panthéon and over the river up to the Place de République and the Bataclan nightclub. In a Lady and the Unicorn tapestry at the Musée de Cluny, the mirror held up by the lady for the benefit of the unicorn reflects the base of the creature’s horn but nothing more: the cropped image in the lady’s glass, the discrepancy between the unicorn and its hornless reflection, seems to assert a disruption between what is seen and what is believed.

There are police railings at the entrance to the Bataclan; between two of the doors is a blackboard with the price of beers and other drinks. To the right, two identical posters are plastered onto a plastic board jutting out from the club. On them are montages of Paris, the Eiffel Tower and smoke rising from the ruins of the city. It is an arresting image, and it took some time to decipher what’s going on. The legend on them claims that the UOIF – Union des organisations islamiques de France – is a Trojan horse for Islamic State. (A piece in Libération explains how accusations have been made about the links between the UOIF and the Muslim Brotherhood.) The source of the posters, if the Twitter handle at the bottom is anything to go by, seems to be the French contingent of a global anti-extremist Muslim social media campaign, Not in My Name, which is perhaps why these provocative images have been left to stand, here and in other parts of the city. An official poster tied to the police railings outside the nightclub includes a message from the mayor of Paris asking visitors to respect the site and not leave flowers by the entrance.

At the foot of the monument at the centre of the Place de la République, under a clear blue sky, there were heaps of weathered flowers, flags and candles, as well as a lot of graffiti.

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