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Blood and Fear at Le Petit Cambodge

José Lira
Georg Diez
20.01.16
60 min
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We met at a café not too far from where it happened. José Lira was calm, composed. He is an architect who has been living in Paris for a few months, working, learning, changing. He is good-looking, he has a beard that is well-trimmed, he seems like somebody you could meet anywhere from Bogota to Beirut, from Bangkok to Bejing. This is the 21st century. But not everybody agrees. Or: What are the reasons, exactly? There was a lot of talking and explaining, some go very far back in history, as far as the 19th century and the story of colonalism and oppression and exploitation and humiliation and broken promises of the West. Some go to the banlieues of Paris. It is all good, it is all important, connecting the dots. But José’s story is different. He just was there. And he wrote down, what he had seen and felt. This is his account: Read it. And listen to the conversation we had.

“These are the times when we are at a loss. We don’t know what to do, what to think, I don’t know what to say, but many friends have written to me, concerned, all the terrible news coming from Paris are amplified through the distance, also thanks to the awful tone of news media, resounding with a public that likes tragedy, blood, fear. There was even someone who made up that a Brazilian architect had died in the attacks… I write to tell you that I am well, and to share a little bit of what I am feeling. Perhaps this might help you and me think some more, perhaps feel more closely what happened. I still have not been able to read much about what happened, and I confess that I am shocked by the way the news are treated, in a way that is sometimes too abstract, sometimes too sensationalist. The fact is that I cannot forget the fragile but serene gaze of the victims by my side yesterday evening.

“I had spent a blissful Friday afternoon in the company of two former students from the School of Architecture at the University of São Paulo; soon other friends, almost all of them Brazilian and architects, joined us. We decided to have dinner at the Petit Cambodge, a delicious restaurant, in a vibrant, youthful part of the 10ème. At around 9:30, when we were almost done eating, the shots began. We were eating at a sidewalk table, the sound of the machine-gun was very close to us, I saw sparks on the other side of the sidewalk. I swear I first thought those were fireworks, perhaps part of a performance in this neighborhood so full of artists and irreverent people, and I thought it was odd that everyone got up and started running. How extreme! But the shots wouldn’t stop and began to hit all the dishes and bottles all around, and impulsively I joined the flow of people who were running from the restaurant to a grocery store next door. Once in there, I realized that only two of my friends were there; we didn’t know where the other five were. Back inside, there were about twenty of us, and no one had any idea about what had just happened. One of my friends was bleeding, perhaps from glass shards on his forehead.

“Ten minutes later, the firemen arrived and we left; then came the police, as always truculent and insensitive. The scene was indescribable. A Holocaust at the level of those back in the day in Cambodia. I didn’t know where to look, there people on the ground, groups of friends comforting the wounded, people crying, some people already dead lying alone, others almost dying. We were looking for our friends. I saw one of them on the ground, assisted by her French friend, also covered in blood. I approached her. A beautiful young woman, her body so small, her skin so fine, very wounded, who spoke to me serenely in Portuguese: “I need to get out of here, I need to get to a hospital.” We tried to comfort her, to embrace her, to stay by her side while waiting for the medical help that had not arrived yet. The firemen helped her with oxygen and a blanket, but they did not know who needed the most help, they did not know what to do.

“Two other friends appeared, in good shape, and took us to one of my former students, an amazing young man, a person from the most precious kind, who was splayed inside the restaurant. He was very hurt, but conscious, my friends surrounding him, helping him as we could, while he kept repeating with us that he would stay strong. Once in a while I trembled, I begged for medical help, I glanced to one side and the other and was met by the serene gaze of the other victims, perhaps the only people who, partly in shock, partly in the humble or resilient manner of vulnerable people, observed all that movement like angels, waiting, processing, looking at the world from up high, perhaps, more than us, stunned by this world which each day becomes more terrible, more intolerant, more filled with hate, with ressentiment, with fear, with despair. I could not move to help the others, the men, the women, their bodies so fragile, more or less wounded, with their eyes attentive to everything that was happening. We were magnetized by the single goal of saving our friends, and the firemen and the police still not knowing whom to rescue first, who was in worst shape, telling us all the time: “There are 10 dead, there are 20 dead, there are 40 wounded, patientez!”

“I will not get into this issue now, but it is very strange to see so much security, so many military and police on the streets of Paris, and so little preparedness to deal with the eventual victims of what they most fear. I will not get into this, because I just want to tell you that what really concerns me, and increasingly so in life, is the feeling in the singular, the pain in the singular, people in the singular. Something so hard to convey, to share, as we know; and also (and not only) for this reason so ignored by the analyses, the news, the leaders, their technicians and technologies, by the aggressors, by people and groups, accustomed to speaking of tens, of hundreds, of thousands. I don’t speak of their personalities, of whether they are intelligent or not, cool or square, happy or not so much, successful or frustrated. But I speak of their bodies, their pain, the look in their eyes, their frailty, their smallness, our skin that tears so easily, our bones that break, really, our organs that sometimes fail, our breathing, labored sometimes. Our voice that murmurs, whispers, whines, talks, asks for help if needed, when possible, our bodies which collide, can’t move, can support other bodies, comfort them, protect others at risk, run when threatened, our kind of automatic reactions that proclaim all the time: “I want life,” I want to preserve life, this potency of feeling, acting, thinking. So brutalized today.

“But what I wanted to say is that five Brazilians, among them myself, did not have their bodies hit by shots. Our two friends underwent surgery and are recovering. We are all together. Their fragility and their strength, their serene and vulnerable gaze, their delicate way of saying “I feel pain, I don’t, here, please help me,” all of this will make a difference. Because life does not wait. We will go back to Brazil soon. And well. To this Brazil that has given us so many signs of intolerance—religious, ideologic, ethnic, politic, moral, gender intolerance. But, after all, our home. Thank you for your concern!”

Le texte est paru en portugais sur ce lien: 

http://www.saocarlosemrede.com.br/brasil/ex-professor-da-arquitetura-da-usp-de-sao-carlos-estava-no-restaurante-atacado-por-terroristas-em-paris 

Blood and Fear at Le Petit Cambodge

José Lira
Georg Diez
20.01.16
60 min
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