Sunday, November 15, 2015


My publisher Martin Shepard of the Permanent Press asked me to describe our experiences that terrible Friday night in Paris, where my wife Connie and I were on vacation. This is that letter, written the next morning.

By Ivan G. Goldman

I want to make clear that Connie and I have no complaints. Any minor inconveniences we experienced are nothing in the face of such tragedy, but I will try to clue you in a little as to what it’s been like to be in the city at this terrible time. We were out and about when all this happened Friday night. First, we saw no panic. Confusion yes, but no one running around in hysterics. The mood has been somber. There are few roadmaps to follow in such cases.
We’re staying in an Airbnb apartment in the 6th arrondisement on the Left Bank. The shithead perpetrators mounted their attacks on the Right Bank, where we happened to be Friday night. We were trying to choose between two restaurants for dinner. One was a little place in the Place Republique area where much of the horror unfolded, but finally we settled on the other place near Place Madeleine, not as close. After a nice dinner we strolled around absorbing the Friday night excitement of life in this great city. I recall passing Harry’s New York Bar on rue Daunou, a place that used to be so thick with cigar smoke it reminded me of Army gas mask training. Now all of indoor Paris is smoke-free. But Harry’s is still someone’s crowded, obnoxious idea of what a New York bar is supposed to be. Anyway, we kept moving, and at some point noticed one of those beautiful old four-star hotels we can’t afford to stay in. Called the Westminster or something. We ducked in and found the bar. It was suitably swanky and moderately filled with smug, skinny hotel guests. Lots of polished old wood and books on the shelves. Kind of like the British Library with an expensive menu. Great jazzy piano and bass combo in the corner. I find it’s usually better to sit at the bar in such places, and that’s where we headed. The round-faced, middle-aged barman wore an expensive suit and spoke British English but was Parisian down to the ground. No, that doesn’t mean impolite. I like Parisians, big-city folks who don’t suffer fools gladly. He served Connie a fantastic red wine and found me my scotch, pouring generously. We discussed booze habits in Asia and the Middle East. Later, as we were finishing our drinks his face took on a peculiar mien and he told us terrorists had just gunned down 26 young people in a Paris restaurant around Republique. That’s how the news streamed all night. It would spill out in new chunks of horror, numbers and details changing.
You could see most people in the room didn’t know yet. They still wore smiles. The barman, as I paid him, seemed to blame Obama. Complained that Obama said it would take 10 years to defeat Isis. I felt sorry for this poor dumb bastard but told him immediately and heatedly that Bush, Rumsfeld, & Cheney created Isis when they invaded the wrong country, that I didn’t mind him blaming Americans, but he was blaming the wrong American. What about the confessed torturers? He apologized and I did too. “You’re a Parisian and your city has been attacked,” I said. “If you weren’t upset you’d have to be nuts.” I always admired the French for not following us blindly into Iraq like Tony the Poodle Blair. The Brits are our friends and would follow us into hell, but we should also value the friendship of someone willing to warn us against making a terrible mistake.
We knew the authorities were closing up the city. The barman told us we’d never find a cab, assuming that if we were rich enough to drink in that bar we wouldn’t ride underground with common folk. Anyway, we all figured the Metro would be shut down as authorities tried to close off a getaway for the shitheads. Connie and I decided to start walking toward the river. We were staying a good two miles away. When we got to Opera, a busy hub with a big Metro station underneath, Connie wanted to see if the Metro was running. I wasn’t crazy about going down there because if there’s shooting, you’ve got nowhere to run in a subway. We descended the steps.
Lots of people down there. It’s not terribly far from Republique. People  along the track pacing or clustered around smart phones. Sad. Our train didn’t have to pass Republique. Amazingly, it showed up. Crowded, as always on a Friday night. Standing room only. I found myself staring down at a man I assumed was an Arab. He looked up and flashed a long, sickly smile, whether ingratiating or mocking I could not tell, but I knew I’d been wrong to stare. A couple stations down the line the train stopped and an announcer asked everyone to get off, which we did in quick, orderly fashion. Standing there along the track as our train left, we didn’t know if we were trapped down there or another train would come. Lots of possibilities. Everyone still clustered around smart phones. A young woman heard Connie and me speaking English and approached. She was Canadian, but her French was no better than ours. She had a long way to go, the end of the line. We told her if they let us out of the station she could sleep on our sofa. By this time we were hearing about explosions and the big soccer game. But after a while another train stopped for us. We wished one another luck and Connie and I got out at our station, Sevres Babylone, near St. Germaine. The brasserie on the corner was defiantly open, with local folks gathering in solidarity. But we knew authorities were asking everyone to stay inside, and it was around midnight. We made it into our apartment and began following the news with everyone else, watching witnesses, cops, inert bodies on the streets. They’d closed at least a third of the Metro. We learned they were also closing borders and airports, but we weren’t terribly concerned even though we were supposed to go home in four days. When there are body bags right across the river, you can't worry so much about your piddling little problems. Soon would come the funerals and then the response of the civilized world.

Goldman’s 5th novel The Debtor Class is a 'gripping ...triumphant read,' says Publishers Weekly. A future cult classic with 'howlingly funny dialogue,' says Booklist. Available in April from Permanent Press wherever fine books are sold. Goldman is a New York Times best-selling author. 

No comments: