Friday 23 March 2018

Pray for Nice, pray for all the children

Dark stains of evil are washed away by hope and prayer at seaside shrine as people sing Nice anthem 'Nissa la Bella' seaside shrine

COMFORT: A child looks at tributes on the Promenade des Anglais for THE 84 people dead and scores injured after Thursday’s attack. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA
COMFORT: A child looks at tributes on the Promenade des Anglais for THE 84 people dead and scores injured after Thursday’s attack. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA

Alan O'Keeffe in Nice

Candles flickered in the darkness on the Promenade des Anglais as silence reigned where once there was joy.

The people of Nice were in the grip of profound grief after the massacre of the innocents. The coming of Friday night brought a balm of quietness to a place of carnage.

A palm tree, the symbol of the Cote d'Azur, was the centre-point of a makeshift shrine at the edge of the cordoned-off esplanade.

The night before, a truck mowed down the children, mothers and the fathers.

Twenty-four hours later, people came to stand together to remember loved ones and offer each other support and comfort.

Teddy bears and a lime green unicorn lay among the candles. Adults and teenagers sat cross-legged at the edge of the glowing shrine, eyes full of tears.

The silence felt comforting. The whine of a distant scooter did nothing to mar the sombre mood. A man in yellow shorts and a red T-shirt squatted on a kerbstone and wept.

Men and women found solace in each other's arms. Mothers whispered to daughters. Sons held their fathers' hands.

Hand-written messages on white sheets of paper were placed among the floral tributes. "Pray for Nice" was prominent, written with red, white, and blue markers.

"In memoria di tutte le vittime" and "Vive la France" were among the many declarations, as well as a message in Arabic.

One couple arrived a little while later carrying two white teddy bears.

A distance away from the shrine were steel cordons blocking access to the promenade.

Police and municipal staff worked through the night as teams cleared the road surface of sometimes gory evidence that remained after the massing killing.

Come morning, news teams stood in clusters around the young men and women delivering live broadcasts to viewers around the globe.

Another gathering place was a grass area outside the Balthazar Brasserie on the edge of the promenade. The place was completely covered with flowers and messages.

A white bed sheet was pinned to a shop -front and became a billowing white-board of comfort and solidarity as people queues to write their messages with markers.

"The life of those who died will live in the memory of those who survived," wrote one.

A man visiting from Belgium painstakingly wrote: "Never forget the fallen. United we stand."

"Touche pas nos enfants," wrote another.

A large heart with "Je suis Nice" was added to the bedsheet.

Around 15 members of a Nice cultural group stood together and began singing the unofficial anthem of the city, written in 1904, called Nissa la Bella.

As they sang, with hands over their hearts, bystanders and camera operators surrounded them. They sang three verses and ended to the sound of strong applause.

On the re-opened beach nearby, the first tentative steps were taken by bathers entering the sea.

Cafes in surrounding streets were beginning to fill again with the hum of humanity.

Outside Le Grand Balcon, a young blonde bride clutched her bouquet among her well-wishers as her handsome groom stood close by, wearing a suit as blue as the Mediterranean.

Sunday Independent

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