recalls being overseas in Paris
on September 11 last year
By Elizabeth Boyce
Slayton International, Atlanta
Special to GwinnettForum.com
(Editor's Note: Elizabeth Boyce, sister of Peter
Boyce of Dacula, was living in Paris last September 11. This is
her recollection of last year's events from the perspective of being
SEPT. 13, 2002 -- It was one of those exquisite fall days in Paris.
The air had cooled and the sky was cut by strange rose and gray
half tones hinting at the impending change of seasons. Friends were
visiting from the United States and we lingered over a second café
and a slice of lemon and chocolate tart at La Muscade in Le Palais
Royale, as we discussed how odd it was that lately so many young,
vibrant people like John F. Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana, had died
under such tragic circumstances.
"It makes you feel so vulnerable knowing death can come so
quickly," Mary Catherine remarked sadly as we parted at the
entrance of Les Jardins des Tuileries.
Still mulling over our conversation, I had a strong foreboding
as I turned the key in the door of my apartment. My Norwegian husband,
Sven, normally so contained, embraced me with tears in his eyes
and said, "Honey, something very bad has happened back at home."
Our housekeeper, Violetta wrapped her arms around both of us and
began to pray in Filipino.
Sven led me into the living room where the horror was unfolding
on French television. As the French commentator reported that a
tower at the World Trade Center had been hit by a commercial jetliner,
a CNN feed with an American reporting about a possible attack on
the Pentagon came on in the background. We watched in disbelief
as the second plane struck. What was happening to America?
I reached for the phone with trembling hands to contact my mother
and brothers in Atlanta. All circuits were busy, and remained so
for almost three hours. Visions of Hartsfield International Airport
being a likely target were easy to conjure up. I was living in Paris
4,500 miles from Atlanta, and my country was under attack by terrorists.
At last the line rang through and I heard the soothing voice of
my mother, assuring me that friends and family were all safe.
An expat for many years, I discovered my American-ness in the days
ahead and claimed it with pride for what we are as a nation and
sadness for those that we had lost. The French community reached
out to become my family. People stopped us on the street and offered
condolences and prayers.
The shopkeepers where we bought our bread, cheese, and fish shook
our hands solemnly and offered a kind word and the occasional hug.
An impromptu memorial sprung up in front of The American Embassy.
First flowers, then hundreds of people, mostly not American, came
to pay their respects with a note, a candle or a T-shirt from the
U.S. The Embassy constructed a white tent as the throngs filed silently
through the memorial, stopping to write a word of encouragement
or leave a short prayer in the guest book.
Friday, September 14th.
I passed by my local flower stall to buy some white roses and was
touched when the florist wouldn't let me pay for them.
"God bless America," he said in heavily accented English
and shooed me along so that I wouldn't notice the tears welling
up in his eyes.
At 11:55 a.m., I walked out on our balcony which wrapped around
one of the busiest boulevards in Paris and waited with my roses.
People began to file out into the streets from the offices, cafes,
and boutiques all around us. At 12:00, I watched in amazement as
the traffic stopped, the horns grew silent and all of Paris bowed
its head in sadness for my country. My body tingled with emotion
as a full military band played The Star Spangled Banner, its melody
echoing down the silent streets from the courtyard of President
Jacques Chirac's Elysees Palace.
The band stopped playing and a man on the street below looked up
at me. I pulled a rose petal from my flower and let it float down
into his hands. Another man joined him, another woman, and then
another as white velvet petals cascaded to the outstretched arms
below. We were one world at that moment, connected by the power
of human goodness, love, and promise that could stand tall in the
face of such evil.
We've moved back to Atlanta and I commemorated September 11th beside
my American family and friends this year, but my heart reaches across
the miles to embrace every person of every nationality who embraced
me on the 11th of September, at home in Paris, so far away from
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