Reader was in Paris during terrorist attack on joie de vivre

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 19, 2015

Michelle Brennick visited France to honour military valour at Vimy Ridge and returned with memories of terrorist horror in Paris

One of our coffee companions was in Paris at the time of the Friday the 13th terrorist assault on the soul of that city.

Longtime Cochrane resident Michelle Brennick, the energetic former Vice-Principal of St. Timothy Jr/Sr High School, moved to Whitecourt in 2006 where she holds the position of Deputy Superintendent with Northern Gateway Public Schools.

Michelle was in Paris as a member of a Vimy Ridge centennial curriculum planning team of Canadian educators. She shares with us some of her memories of last week’s tragic events:

AT 5:25 PM OUR GROUP of 20 superintendents, deputy superintendents, assistant superintendents and directors of education from across Canada descended the 160 stairs of L'Arc de Triomphe and captured pictures of the Eternal Flame. Such reverence! Such respect! Such Joy!

Following dinner at a restaurant (only four km from the later carnage), our tour director arranged for a River Seine cruise. We boarded the boat for the hour-long cruise at 9 PM.

A few short steps from the departure point, police cars were careening by at immense speeds, with many other emergency vehicles following. Our group commented that something BIG must have been going down not too far away.

During our metro ride back to the hotel something was said over the PA about police concerns, but the system was crackly and the words without context caused little, if any, alarm.

Just before we reached the hotel, now on foot, our tour company representative learned from their head office in Ontario that Paris had been the target of terrorism. We all started checking our phones and, lo and behold, we had all been receiving calls, texts, emails from our Canadian families and workplace colleagues.

At the hotel, less than five km from the restaurant that was attacked, we were asked not to go outside, for safety and security reasons. More information was coming in about the "possible" coordinated terrorist attacks.

It was calm at our group’s command centre at the hotel, as organizers phoned family members, tried to confirm our Saturday departures, watched social media sites, and reflected on possible contingency plans.

In the wee morning hours when we finally made it back to our rooms, France's borders were closed. We did not know what lay ahead for us.

When the first of our group arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport at 7:30 AM Saturday, only hours after the heinous attacks, they reported back that it was pandemonium there. They didn't know if they were getting out or coming back to the hotel. An hour later, the second group reported increased security but a sense of quasi-order.

I was in the final group to depart. We were Edmonton-bound via Montreal. We were told our flight would be delayed an hour.

When we exited our hotel all was calm. The streets, markets and cafes were not bustling like the previous morning, but there was certainly movement and "normalcy."

Upon arrival at the airport we knew what our Canadian colleagues had encountered, but what awaited us was still unknown. Much to our surprise, it was calm and organized, and processes were streamlined. We were through security in record time and left the runway at 2:35 PM, Saturday, only 90 minutes late.

Our group had gone to Paris originally to plan for Canadian students an educational experience of the 100th anniversary of military valour at Vimy Ridge. The memory of Wednesday, November 11, 2015 is etched in my brain because I attended the Remembrance Day service at the actual site, Vimy Ridge.

The memory of Friday, November 13, 2015 is etched in my brain because:

• A free nation was attacked by terrorists in a coordinated effort to kill innocent people;

• Life is fragile; eating dinner at a restaurant, having a cafe au lait at a local cafe, attending a musical performance, or watching an athletic event in a stadium – all these people were enjoying a Friday evening in Paris;

• Paris, the beautiful, iconic city of romance and adventure, is mourning its lost, innocent lives and having to vision-forward so that its people (and visitors) are safe and still free to live their lives with joie de vivre.

—Michelle Brennick, Whitecourt, Alberta


© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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