Well known in the tour and travel industry in the U.S. Rose Reyes—she was director of product development for TPro for 10 years before it was acquired by Kuoni and merged with Allied Tours into AlliedTPro, and later handled worldwide tourism sales and marketing the show, Mamma Mia!—has been living in Paris for several years, handling various consulting assignments and writing.
She was there last Friday night when terrorist insanity resulted in the deaths of 129 innocent people through unspeakably brutal acts of violence. The next day, in an online posting to friends, Reyes wrote of what she saw and heard—and breathed in— in the Paris that she has come to know well. It is prose of the highest order and worth reading. Here is what she said to her friends:
Just Breathe. Breathe Justly.
An extraordinary and random thing happened tonight, just one night after such mass tragedy in Paris. Accepting a last minute dinner invitation in my neighborhood seemed like a good idea. Can’t be alone in times like these.
The day had passed in a blur of social media, friends and family checking in and there were few moments alone to take in the gravity of what had just occurred in my adopted home city. I no longer own a TV and was not immersed in the constant flood of reports and goings on. I thought. what must it be like for the families of the victims today ?– to have to face life without their brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, or friend.
What had promised to be wonderful start to the weekend, a visit from my cousin, hearing her and her band play in well-known concert hall, turned out to be the beginning of one of the saddest days in France. How lucky were we? That we were at the right place, at the right time and avoided so much terror? We simply became grateful for the opportunity to breathe in a new day; we knew that we were fortunate when so many were not.
My cousin boarded a tour bus and by the stroke of midnight had rolled quietly out of the city of light turned dark by terror. As the rest of us walked to my home, now ground zero for the night, we observed the silenced streets of my normally busy quartier. The cafes empty, the kebab place solitary, Obama on TV with Arabic subtitles. We kept awake, restless, looking for more news updates and finally gave in to a fitful night of sleep. The stranger in my bed, a friend of a friend unable to get across town, felt oddly comforting to my exhausted and stressed out self. I won’t cry. I refuse to.
So dinner tonight, Montmartre. Rue Cavaliere des Barres. A pedestrian-only street. As far from tragedy as one could get. Dinner was warm and comforting accompanied with a side dish of lamentation and expressions of shock. Wondering how our friends were doing this night. As I left her apartment, I encountered a man standing in the street, holding his bike, he was speaking to a neighbor across the way.
As I climbed up the cobble stone street, he turned to me and in heavy accented French said “Excusez-moi, mais est-que vous pouvez me dire s’il y a des apartments pour louer ici dans cet quartier?” I asked him if he preferred to speak in English. He smiled wearily and said yes. He said he was from Berlin. Medium build, I would say early fifties or late forties in age. His soft belly told me years of neglect. I listen. He wanted to start over and Paris seemed like a nice place to do that. Easier, better quality of life, he said. It did not occur to me remind him of what has just happened the previous night, maybe he didn’t even know.
He had had a tough two years. Divorced his wife. He had lost his job. They paid him a severance. Half went to taxes. Half to his soon-to-be ex-wife. His wife said he needed psychiatric help. I didn’t ask him to disagree. She convinced his children that he was crazy. His 14-year son told him he didn’t want anything to do with him. I stood there like a stone and listened as he ran out of English. I then asked him to continue in German. I understood about 50 percent of it but the gist of it was that he was at a dead end in his life and he needed to escape. Berlin is a cold city. I need to go where the life is easier, he repeated.
When he was done he said he felt better. You know, to have let it all out. He said he was so thankful he could kiss me. I quickly turned and put my arms around him – hugged him hard. I breathed in his despair. His cologne wafting round us like a colored mist. He kissed my face and let me go. Yes, I said, there are apartments in this neighborhood. I backed up to see his face. His glasses were slightly skewed from our embrace, his face sadness. I told him good luck and continued walking up the street. Each cobblestone pushing me farther away from him. I never looked back and I counted the Montmartre stairs I climbed down to my street. Two hundred and thirty-eight. One hundred more stairs than fatalities in Paris last night. His cologne still lingers around my ears and nose.
Breathe justly because a human to be hugged is just right in times like these.