Dispatch from Paris: Fluctuat Nec Mergitur

Dispatch from Paris: Fluctuat Nec Mergitur

Print Print
Email Email

Paris coat of arms
Paris Coat of Arms by Wikimedia/Bluebear2

On Friday, November 13, Pierre and I went out to dinner in Paris. We had debated heading across the river to the trendy Canal St Martin where we used to live, but instead enjoyed a stroll through the 14th to a convivial neighborhood bistro, packed with Parisians partaking in great food, glasses of Faugères wine, and lively conversation. Not unlike the scene across town in the 10th and 11th where fellow Parisians gathered at Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon. It was when we tuned into the France-Germany soccer match that we heard the news. Confusion and concern escalated to fear and panic as the events unfolded. We realized our dear friend Theresa had gone to hear the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, at the Bataclan. She had purchased the tickets to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday, leaving her partner home with their two young children for a well-deserved soirée.

Her last tweet showed a photo of the neon sign outside the concert hall. Heart racing, I scoured the web for news. Theresa’s partner called—she had dialed from the Bataclan and he told her to hang up immediately so as not to be a target—and Pierre went over to comfort him. We plotted out the safest route for Pierre to run over to their apartment. As I heard sirens in the distance, I monitored BFMTV on the television, Twitter on my laptop for real-time updates, while my iPhone pinged with messages from friends around the world. Thus began one of the longest nights of my life.

Theresa survived because the tall man standing inches away from her was shot in the head and his dead body tumbled on top of her. She remained in this position for over an hour, witnessing the horrific, senseless carnage that made Paris a war zone that night. Drenched in blood, she was evacuated by French SWAT teams, then packed into an ambulance with badly injured victims whom she encouraged with all her strength, “Hang on!” Theresa made it home after 4 am, deeply shaken and traumatized. Interviewed by multiple international media outlets, Theresa described the thousands of guardian angels watching over her. The following day, I watched her 20-month old son playing with her hair—running his fingers through the long strands—and I cried.

The terrorists didn’t strike government buildings nor tourist sites; instead they targeted progressive, spirited neighborhoods populated by a mélange of people of all different backgrounds, religions, and political beliefs: Muslim, Christian, Jew, Left, Right, young and old…. They struck at the free, liberal society that makes France great.

Agence France-Presse has published a (nonexhaustive) list of the dead. Among them: Nicolas Classeau, a 40-year old father of three from Bagnolet; Guillaume Decherf, a freelance journalist for Les Inrockuptibles; Halima Ben Khalifa Saadi, a 34-year-old from Tunisia; Asta Diakite, the Malian cousin of French footballer Lassana Diarra, who was playing the match at the Stade de France that night; Nohemi Gonzalez, a Mexican-American student from the university in southern California; and Véronique Geoffroy de Bourgies, a former journalist, founder of a humanitarian nonprofit, and mother of two children adopted from Madagascar.

Despite warnings from the police to avoid mass mobilizations, Parisians are standing up en masse against these atrocities. The Place de la Republique has been packed with people paying homage to the victims. The Paris motto has never been more appropriate: in Latin, “Fluctuat Nec Mergitur” is translated as “She is tossed by the waves but does not sink”—often depicted beneath a ship in the Paris coat of arms. The morning after the attacks, we gathered together for a meal with friends, then took the children to a park, while calling up to our Tunisian nanny’s window. She blew kisses from her balcony, describing her sleepness night full of tears and anguish.

I took the metro this morning, along with thousands of other working Parisians. We will not succumb to fear.

The best thing we can do to show our support for Paris and France is to celebrate the city. To celebrate life, love, good food, joie de vivre, and culture—because that is what makes us human, and that is what Paris is all about. Don’t cancel your trip to Paris; continue to travel; come and revel in this magnificent city, a global cultural capital, where people from around the world find so much inspiration and joy.

In this vein—and with an undying belief in the freedom of the press—we will continue to publish articles and stories about the Paris we know and love well. And as always, we welcome your feedback.

Previous articleOur thoughts are with the people of Paris
Next articleIs it Safe to Travel to Paris?
Based in Paris, Nicklin is the Editor of Bonjour Paris. She is also the Web Editor for France Today, the site's sister publication. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to publications like The Washington Post, Condé Nast Traveler, Rhapsody, Travel Agent Magazine, Luxury Travel Advisor, Afar and USAToday.com.


  1. I love Paris – have been twice and would love to keep going. My heart goes out to all Parisians but especially to those who experienced such a horror and the families of those who did not survive it.

  2. Beautifully said Mary. Thank you very much for the glimpse into your and your friend’s experiences during the terrorist attacks of last Friday. Very glad you’re okay. Gros bisous.

  3. Beautiful writing on a most tragic topic…my heart and constant thoughts go out to the injured survivors, those who escaped and especially those who grieve. K.

  4. My husband and I spent several days in Paris about a month ago, walked everywhere. It was one of our best visits (but I say that about all the many visits I’ve been lucky enough to have).

  5. I am Engish but my heart is in France
    I feel so much for you all.
    The article from Mary was like a personal insight into the way you must all be feeling.
    Thank you
    My thoughts and love.
    Carole x

  6. Well said, Mary. I was in Paris with my daughter in September and am fortunate to be returning with friends in April. I will not be kept away due to these horrible events, but will come to the beautiful city full of life.

  7. I have been planning a 2 month sojourn (Dec/Jan) in Paris for months and I would not let anything stop me from coming and spending time in the city that I love. I cannot wait to come!

  8. I read this with tears rolling down my face..We have just returned from our 9th visit to France with the last beautiful week spent in an Apartment on Rue Amelot.. Little did we know of the trouble brewing all around us..
    Our hearts go out to the people killed, hurt and affected by the dreadful acts..
    We admire the strength and courage of the French people . Please be aware that the world stands with you and we will be back..xx

  9. I saw Therese interviewed on tv. This very personal account of her ordeal is even more touching. She survived in part because she played dead. We have spent two weeks in Paris each autumn for several years … this past autumn was my 8th time and I have booked for next autumn.

  10. This moving and personal account of one woman’s horror in the Paris atrocities and the affect on family and friends brings home the human cost of indiscriminate hatred. Hatred that will not vanquish us, but make us stronger and more united across all free thinking countries.
    I will see you in March, Paris-as always.
    Sincerest wishes to Therese and all those affected in Paris.

  11. I just returned from 16 days in Paris where we rent an apt. yearly; fortunately, we weren’t personally affected by the horrific and barbaric events of 13 Novembre; however, we were deeply touched and mourned the loss of the precious lives and the second “hit” that our beloved city has taken this year. I live in NYC, and the days following were much like the ones I experienced after 9/11: eerily empty streets, closed musees, magasins, cafes…sadness permeating the glorious Parisian air. But Paris will =has-emerged stronger, more unified and alive than ever, and those murderous beasts will have lost. I can’t wait to return next fall, and send my continued love and support to my friends and the citizens of the French capital. I’m glad your friend is safe and healthy.

  12. I am so glad your friend survived. I can only imagine how terrified I’d be waiting to find out if any of my friends were alright on such an horrendous night as last Friday.
    We have been staying in the area between
    Bastille and Republique for the last 13 years and love it as if it was our neighbourhood. Our route every day of the holiday takes us along Richard Lenoir. We will still walk it next summer!

  13. Our eldest lives in Versailles and works in Paris, we were so happy that he was home when I called to check on him. No matter how old your child gets they are still your child! We planned to visit France next summer and travel to Rouen, etc., and Versailles and we are still going to go as long as it is not terribly unsafe.

  14. Our eldest son lives in Versailles and works in Paris. We were so relievd to find him home and not injured. We have been planning on visiting him next summer and hope to complete our plan.