Sunday 25 September 2016

The true sense of this tragedy emerged yesterday - but the people will not be cowed

Published 16/07/2016 | 02:30

A young woman cries as she stands in front of the French Embassy in Berlin, after the deadly attacks in Nice. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A young woman cries as she stands in front of the French Embassy in Berlin, after the deadly attacks in Nice. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Promenade des Anglais is like Grafton Street. It's the place where dates are arranged, where families go for a stroll, where people go to see and be seen.

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Nice has been in a festive mood all week in the build up to Bastille Day.

I'm here with my own family and we were out for dinner last night. Restaurants were jam-packed with families, there was a very busy, festive atmosphere and we noted that there were lots of kids out quite late.

Of course they were. They were on their summer holidays and Bastille Day is like St Patrick's Day at home.

After all, it's the Mediterranean and young kids are always allowed to stay up late in the warm evenings.

The most shocking thing about this attack is that there were obviously kids, toddlers everywhere.

On Bastille Day, the promenade fills up early with people eager to catch sight of the red, white and blue fireworks.

The walkway goes on for 2km. It's a half moon shape, beautifully lit by street lights and the azure blue sea lapping at the edge.

People gravitate towards it.

It's hard to think of the promenade now, without some of the scenes of tragedy.

It was only by lucky chance that we decided not to stay for the fireworks after dinner.

We first heard of it when my wife got a text from her sister in the States, we jumped online and thought that some driver had a stroke.

Gradually, it took a more sinister air and the death toll kept doubling every half hour.

We were sitting there, paralysed on the couch.

However, the true sense of tragedy was only gradually emerging throughout yesterday.

In the morning, I went down to the local boulangerie to buy some fresh bread and to pick up some newspapers.

On the news stand, all the papers carried the tragedy. Le Monde was sold out and the local paper, Nice Matin, had 'Carnage Nice' on the front with a full-page photo of the bodies laid out on the road.

I was expecting a pall of morbidity in the bakery but outwardly, the people were quite bubbly and normal.

However, as soon as I mentioned what had happened, their faces fell.

They are trying to keep positive, but then the mask slips. I think that probably people are processing it and the whole raft of other emotions will follow.

The French are an intensely proud and patriotic nation. They get very serious very quickly when they talk about the republic and the separation of church and state. For example, you are not allowed wear a cruicifx on your clothing if you are civil servant - that's how serious they take it, that the state mustn't be beholden to any church. They are very proud of that fact and of being one of the original republics.

When we arrived, we did feel that security had been beefed up. The police are armed with semi-automatic machine guns, not just in airport but on the boulevard on the promenade. In some ways, that was a bit unsettling - but it was also reassuring.

France breathed a sigh of relief when it got through the Euros without an attack. But it's unclear how something like this could be prevented.

President Francois Hollande's phrase that it is a country in tears is appropriate.

The people are broken, but will not be cowed.

Irish Independent

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