2015: France’s annus horribilis

DECEMBER 31 ― Looking back at 2015, this is a year that has rightly earned the name annus horribilis, or put simply, it’s been a truly horrible year.

The savage raid on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the Germanwings tragedy and the November 13 attacks across Paris. A terrifying sequence of events that have cast a menacing shadow across the nation.  A nation already preoccupied with its own homegrown problems, with its stagnating economy, lame president and the alarming rise of the National Front, an extremist right-wing party with its sights on the next general election.

On January 7, just as this cursed year began to unfurl its wings, news of the mass shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices, a hostage situation in a Jewish supermarket and manhunts across Paris hit the headlines and shocked a country:

We could not believe what was unfolding before our eyes…

The French ― Christians, Jews and Muslims alike ― soon rose in defiance. Je suis Charlie placards raised high in the air, they took to the streets of Paris in their millions to show Charlie Hebdo, to show each other, to show the world:

“Vive la France!” And to hell with the terrorists!

The nation limped through that miserable winter, but before the healing warmth of spring could set to work, France became an unwilling host to the Germanwings Flight 9525 tragedy. The French Alps, revered for their serenity and beauty, were transformed into a scene of horror as 150 passengers and crew were taken to their deaths by a suicidal co-pilot on the March 24. 

We watched, we helped, we mourned.

Then came the unthinkable: the November 13 attacks in Paris, carefully crafted assaults on the very fabric underpinning the French joie de vivre. Everyday people, going about their everyday life: concert-goers, football spectators, bar-revellers, people enjoying a night out at their local restaurant. 130 dead, 368 injured and a country terrifyingly said to be at war. 

We did not know what to feel first: panic? disbelief? horror? loss? anger? fear?

Families of the victims, who came not only from France but from over a dozen other countries, dealt with an empty seat at the Christmas dining table last Friday — the loss of their loved ones weighing heavy, crushing the festive air.

I have stopped thinking the threat is “just a Paris thing”, and not about my town in the leafy Western suburbs. That was when I passed the church on my road one Friday afternoon in late November. Close to a hundred people stood outside its stained glass entrance, so many that the church walls could not hold them all. Black figures with heads bowed. Two hundred metres from the house we have just bought in the country we have chosen to raise our kids.

The entire medical community, our town’s pharmacists, doctors, dentists and nurses were attending the funeral of 21-year-old Suzon Garrigues. The daughter of a local doctor who was killed in the Bataclan concert hall attack.  It’s hard not to notice those beautiful brown eyes, or that warm wide smile, as you pass her photo attached to the gates of the town hall, surrounded by a sea of single white roses.

I know it’s on my doorstep when my children tell me over supper all about the “terrorist drills” they had at school that day. Specially-made metal covers for windows, chairs and tables used as barricades. Masking tape to seal doors and windows from a possible chemical attack.

I am writing this from a chalet nestled in an idyllic mountainside village in the Western Alps. The snow is a disaster this year too, not a natural snowflake in sight since we arrived 10 days ago, for what we hoped would be our first “white Christmas.”

It seems that even the much-loved French pastime of skiing ― a passion almost on a par with their love of fine wine ― is feeling the bitter sting of annus horribilis, as it boldly clings on with its last dying breath.

Be gone 2015! Release your clammy hold!

We are ready for you 2016: Oh new and joyful bonne année.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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