Paris in 1995

On July 25, 1995 I took the metro from my dormitory in Paris to the station Saint Michel, which was a stones throw from Notre Dame Cathedral. I was with a group of fellow students and we were to meet our professor for Le Bateau Mouche, which is a tour of Paris on a little boat.

Saint Michel is a busy station as it has two main trains that intersect there. RER B is the bottom line and above that crosses the RER C line. And then above RER C is the street.

We arrived at the station via RER B and looked for the exit our teacher had told us to use. A couple of the students saw a big map and began to study it, convinced that it would show them the way. I thought this was stupid and said so - after all, how hard could this be? Get out of the station, look for a river. Follow the river until you see the boats.

Our group split into two and we left our friends who were fruitlessly staring at the map. We ascended some stairs and were standing next to the RER C train when we felt an explosion. There was a total moment of silence as we all pondered, "What the hell was that?!" The impact didn't move my body, but it had caused my organs to vibrate in the creepiest way.

I decided to leave, with or without my peers. I headed towards an exit where there was a line of people who had the same idea. In my peripheral vision I saw someone running in a strange way. His arms were down at his side and he was swaying as he ran. I looked at him and saw that he was badly injured - his shirt was torn and burned and there appeared to be blood all over him.

I jumped the small fence keeping me in the station and ran out to the street.

It was a beautiful day. There were many people elegantly snacking in the cafes, ladies were walking their was almost as if I had dreamed it.

A stampede of people erupted from the station. Transfixed, I stood there. I have no idea why. I just couldn't leave. People with minor injuries were coming out and everyone looked as though they'd been in a fire.

After the initial thrust of people I saw a woman lying on the stairs. Thinking she had fallen, I ran down to help her. She had a bad cut diagonally across her throat and blood was coming out in squirts, just like the movies. I tried to talk to her but her eyes were like marbles, rolling around in her head. She began smacking herself in the hindsight I think that she was near the bomb and it might have deafened her, at least temporarily. I took her skirt and held it against her neck but she kept swatting at me.

I heard the sirens above so I ran to get her help. The medics shoved me out of the way and got to work. I still hadn't realized what had happened.

The explosion sounded exactly like a bomb had gone off. But that was too incredible to assume. But it was indeed a bomb, planted by Algerian terrorists. It had been on the train line we had been on. They had put it under a seat and many people sitting or standing there lost their legs. 8 people died.

The medics began pulling people out of the station. I think there were around 75 seriously injured. The beautiful cafes were turned into operating rooms as limbs were removed to save lives.

Our friend slowly walked up the stairs in a daze. Her face was completely white except for two bright red spots on her cheeks, as though she were blushing. There was soot all over her. Apparently she was still standing next to that map when the bomb went off. It sent her flying backwards into a wall where she hit her head. But her much more serious injury was mental; she saw people dying, people on fire, people who had lost their arms or legs in the explosion.

Helicopters filled the air. There must have been hundreds of them. The whole thing was so surreal...we just stood there with our mouths hanging open.

Then I heard one of the policemen say that there was another bomb that had not yet detonated and we needed to clear the area. I began blindly running down the street, having no idea where I could or should go.

We found out later that the terrorists had planted bombs on both RER B and C. But the one on C - the one that I was standing next to - was a dud. They had been designed to go off at the same time and I heard that they had hoped to rupture the wall of the station so that the river would flood it.

Thankfully they failed in the more catastrophic plan.

For a long time I felt like I'd never be the same again. I had nightmares and trouble eating; my doctor said it was post traumatic stress disorder. Now I rarely think about it. But for whatever reason I was thinking about it today and thought that I'd write about it.


Jormengrund said…
Amazing what the actions of one person or group can do, isn't it?

I still recall the "minor" skirmish that happened while I was in Dublin between the regulars and the IRA..

I still have nightmares about it..
David said…
I think that is the same station I've used to get to the Sainte Chappelle - which I think is one of the most spectacular chapels in the whole world...the columns are so narrow and the walls are nearly entirely stained glass windows.

I don't think so many people go to see that since it is within the perimeter walls of the ministry of justice.

Having been affected by a terrorist bomb, I'm not commnenting on that aspect other than to say it was well written.

Bex said…
Jormengrund - You know, I forgot about those guys. Killing in the name of god. What a total load of crap.

David - I don't know that chapel. My favorite spot there was Musee d'Orsay. That in and of itself is a religious experience.

Sorry for your's a strange world.
David said…
Musee d'Orsay is an absolute treasure of excellent art for sure. I've always loved impressionism.
Bex: Not what I expected when I came here, but very nicely done...

...and way to bring a person down on a cold winter night. ;) But really, did enjoy the post, joking aside.
Beck said…
Well written Bex. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate this side of you as well as your hilarious and outrageous sides. Maybe they're all on the same side. Regardless, extremely interesting. Glad you're OK.
Jeffrey Ellis said…
Wow. Thanks for sharing that story.
Bex said…
Me too, David. I'm not a huge museum person but I always find a way to stop at the Orsay...just being in the space makes me happy. For those who haven't been there, you should put it on your list. I'd take it over the Louvre 100 times over.

Thanks to the rest of you for swinging by and taking the time to read. Don't worry...I'll be up to my old tricks in no time.
David said…
And speaking of museums to put on the to-do list - The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. A spectacular collection housed in a building constructed specifically for that collection.

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