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A Bittersweet Bank Holiday

20 July 2016

The 14th of July marks Bastille day in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille in 1789. It was a long bank holiday weekend with no classes on the Thursday or the Friday. Many students went away for the weekend but lots of us stayed to see the celebrations and enjoy the Parisian sunshine. Fireworks lit up Champs de Mar and all of the fire stations in Paris hold charity balls, during the day there are military parades down the Champs-Élysées and free concerts. It felt as though the hustle and bustle of the city slowed down for the weekend as everybody relaxed and enjoyed the festivities.

A group of us decided to avoid the crowds and watch from afar. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the fireworks but had a great evening in an outdoor bar on the left bank. During the course of the evening we had been talking about some of the concerns we had about being in Paris at the time. While we had been there, the city was celebrating the world cup, LGBT+ pride, Bastille Day and all the while France remains in state of emergency following the November attacks. Shortly after this conversation, we heard the first firework go off and it was not followed by excitement or celebration, but silence. It’s a sad state of affairs when a celebratory display is mistaken for a gunshot.

By this point, Nice was still safe. It was a few hours later I heard the news from a friend in the UK, who messaged me saying ‘get home safe, maybe take an Uber and avoid the metro xxx’. Seconds later, the BBC news report came through on my phone and friends who I was with received alerts from their homes or news apps.

Consequently, President Hollande extended the state of emergency for another three months. We’ve discussed the events of that night in great detail, both in and outside of class but the resounding sentiment is that what was once such a distant threat, now feels so close to home. You will find armed police on every street corner, bags are checked at every venue and bouncers pat you down before going into clubs and bars.

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I come from a military family so am all too aware of the conflicts affecting us in this world, but this weekend struck me as for the first time in my adult life, the threats that were once merely sad stories on my newsfeed are now a reality when I walk out the door. As I’ve mentioned, Sciences Po summer school has a very international student body. My friends from Mexico have told me about the war on drugs, one of my classmates is from Istanbul and the country I’m currently living in is recovering from the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

I don’t wish to overindulge in the scare-mongering; it’s all relative, isn’t it? We aren’t in Syria and we should be thankful for the security that we do have, but it would be naïve to think of our current affairs as distant when they are affecting us so closely, in ways we may not realise.

Paris was safe that night but my heart goes out to all of those affected by the Nice attack. Thank you to the Social Science department and the GOC for checking I was safe.

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To Nice, from Paris, with Love.