AUP Student Voices: Virginia Poe shares her thoughts on the Parisian mentality

November 27, 2015

Virginia PoeThis week, graduate student and Florida native Virginia Poe wrote a beautiful piece for the Orlando Sentinel newspaper about the Parisian mentality, as well as he own, following the attacks in Paris. Take a look at it here:

I am a Central Floridian living in Paris. I attend the American University of Paris. I have lived in the City of Lights for 11 months, and I do not speak French. I was not directly affected by the Paris attacks; I lost no friends or family members. My daily life has strangely not changed, but I have all these feelings. I feel different, I feel normal, I feel scared, I feel unfazed, I feel moments of panic and within the same hour, joy.

My school buildings are the same, my classmates are all present, my grocer still opens at 7:30 a.m., the metro still stinks, and the Eiffel Tower still takes my breath away.

Yet, when I see an unmarked box-truck on my way to class, I have an inescapable moment of panic, where I fear that it might blow up. I am thankful to be late to class because of the increased security at the entrance. And when I wish a friend good night and a safe walk home, it is sobering to realize how seriously I mean it. These startling moments embedded in normalcy are causing me a lot of trouble.

This past Thursday night, I attended a vigil at my university to honor the 130 individuals lost to the terror attacks. As students filed into the room to lay flowers, light candles and leave messages and mementos, I was moved to tears. It's in moments like these that you experience a sense of loss that belies all the carrying on you've been doing. You know now that the life that you know is changed, that the world will move forward from here in a dark and terrifying direction, and that the future is uncertain.

I know all of this because I am an American who experienced the world before and after Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, my father picked me up from my seventh-grade classroom in Lake Mary, and we spent the rest of the afternoon watching the horrific events unfold in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

On Nov. 13, 2015, I was again with my father — this time in our hotel room in Copenhagen during my fall break. It is amazing to me that on the two most infamous days of my lifetime, I happened to be alone with my dad. It is his face that I see when I relive these experiences, and it his voice that I hear in my head, twice saying, "The world will never be the same."

In the week after the attacks, I have felt a strange and unsettling dichotomy. A dichotomy that leaves me feeling disconnected sometimes and at others surprised by sudden fear or grief. Life in Paris has marched on — different, but ever persistent — and I feel caught up in the current and ushered to proceed as before. But life is not as before, and it never will be.

This past Sunday as I walked the hour alone to Republique to pay my respects at the memorial for the victims of the attack, I was struck by the surreal nature of the day. The sun was shining, the weather was crisp, and the streets were bustling with people. The atmosphere changed only as I joined the throng directly circling the memorial. To reach them I had to pass through a group of children playing soccer and navigate around some teenage boys skateboarding in the square. It was only as I stepped into the silent crowd that the grief and reverence became palpable.

Had I taken 10 more steps, I would have been returned to an apparently normal Sunday afternoon in the 10th arrondissement. I suppose, sadly, that this bipolarity is part of our modern condition, but also a result of the Parisian mentality. A mentality that encourages enjoying life, eating croissants, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. The mentality that invented the little black dress and the 35-hour work week. A culture and a city full of people who will not be frightened and who will not change, and now I am one of them.

Nous sommes tous Parisiens.