An Irishman in Paris: "Parisians know what terreur is, but they are certainly not terrified" 7 years ago

An Irishman in Paris: "Parisians know what terreur is, but they are certainly not terrified"

"I am an extremely lucky man to live where I do."

Derek Fennell, originally from County Kildare, has been living in Paris since April 2006.


He writes here about the city he loves, the people he meets, and the defiance against the acts of terrorism that tore the French capital apart on Friday night.


The sky is a broken white, and bright. The air isn’t cold and from my window the atmospheric and light conditions mean that the Eiffel Tower has adopted that stark look against the white backdrop familiar from photographs from the early 1900’s.

Paris intemporel.


I decide to take my Saturday morning constitutional; fewer things give me greater pleasure.

Walking outside La Place du Ratrait I smile on hearing from one balcony the sound of someone playing an accomplished version of Moon River on a saxophone and from the balcony opposite a man is drinking a coffee and smoking as he leans on the rails. Even from here I can see his eyes are narrowed as he puffs. There is a man whose thoughts are complex. I decide.


He nods down to me, I shrug up at him, and he shrugs back. Thought confirmed.


I continue down Rue de Verdun and see a woman with her child and the latter is being obstinate, he starts to squeal and makes himself heavy, forcing her to drag him. But only for a second as she barks ‘Ca va pas, non? Ca suffit!’ before administering a hefty smack on the arse. Because that’s still alright here. And very effective, he falls in line.

Coming to the boulanger I can see that I have missed the early morning cavalcade and am able to swiftly buy a chausson aux pommes that is, to my delight, still a little warm.

Avec ceci?

No, that will be all. I don’t need too much this morning, I’m just happy to be alive I tell her.


Et oui! She says in that inimitable boulangère way that makes me feel like I am talking to the wisest person on the planet and almost intimidated by her lucidity.


I get to Place Henri IV and pass by the carousel surrounded by benches upon which parents watch their children make revolutions in little cars and spaceships with an old Claude François disco song going. The bin lorry pulls up and some African guys are absolutely breaking their shite laughing at some joke, tears running down one guy’s face. I love those kinds of tears.

I keep going and finally reach my destination; Place du Général LeClerc, and the market.



Ah the market! Even if I don’t buy anything I just get a kick out of walking through it and observing the madames pouting and poking at the melons, the venders hurling the prices of their wares into the air in vocal tirades that have become deformed with overuse to the point of incomprehension.

I am reminded of the guy back in Dublin that used to sell the Evening Herald but announced as the ‘Eerdelarer’.

Children thread themselves with practiced dexterity through the throng on little scooters as their parents snap and tackle with one another and those salty veterans behind the counters. The ambiance of this joyeux bordel is enrobed with the smell of fresh fish and shellfish, of leather and couscous.

I pass by some stout elderly women who, with fists planted on hips, are putting the world to rights - but what they are saying doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. It sounds more like they are complaining about some ridiculous Hollywood action movie as the details seem so incongruous.  No, that can’t be real life, can it?


I move on and since the gnawing feeling in my stomach has not gone away I decide to pop into Beaux et Frères and get my usual bagel.

And lo! There is a new girl working there and she doesn’t know me, so she doesn’t know that I always get a Hypolite and an Earl Grey tea with a cloud of milk. The boss knows as he always has to go and look for the milk as I seem to be the only one ever to adhere to such an esoteric Anglo-Saxon custom.

The girl is everything I love about Parisian girls; delicate pale complexion, inquisitive caramel eyes, impeccably unruly hair, exquisite heart-shaped mouth and that chiming, infant-like voice that French women never lose throughout their lives.

My bagel is delicious and around me I listen to the people nattering. There is a density and incisiveness to French people’s analysis of any event or subject that I have never encountered anywhere else.


‘Ah, you know yourself’ is just not enough for them.

On leaving the pretty girl makes sure to say au revoir to me, she gets my name right even though I never told it to her. Maybe she asked the boss? I get her name, Barbie. Of course.

That puts even more spring in my step as I walk outside again and into the heady atmosphere of my town.

Putain, but I love this place I think to myself, my tea carton still warming my hand and my heart welling with joy.

Then, for an instant, a darkness falls across my eye, shades my thoughts.

I can’t keep the delusion going.

BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 14: People arrive to lay candles and flowers at the gate of the French Embassy following the recent terror attacks in Paris on November 14, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Hundreds of people came throughout the day to lay flowers, candles and messages of condolence to mourn the victims of attacks last night in Paris that left at least 120 people dead across the French capital. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks that were carried out by at least eight terrorists. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

There are those who would destroy all of this in an instant if they could. There are those who hate us as much as they must hate themselves and would see us drown in blood.  There are those who would prefer to replace all this with hell on earth.

But then my eyes refocus and I see clearly. There is no force that could overturn this, no twisted ideology or tragically misplaced fervour; these people, these infuriatingly life-loving people, are as proud and tough as the Irish. This culture has come through so many trials of the soul. Lost and found itself again and again from Imperial hubris to desperate resistance.


Paris will endure. Shaken by the waves, but she will not sink. Parisians know what terreur is, but they are certainly not terrified.

You don’t need to pray for Paris; you just need to come here.

After all, this isn’t Beirut.

Is it?