The Battle of Paris

Notes Very, very rough outline here of what will eventually emerge.

I’ve never thought I was particularly brave, and I like to think I’m not foolish. But one of those two traits must have been in play when I didn’t get on the last train back to Britain.

I had just taken one of the photos of the year, and I’m sure that had some effect. The attention that sort of thing gets feels good and can leave you wanting more. So, whilst the other Brits were heading North, I went South.

Two days earlier I had posted the following-

The Ghost of the Eiffel

Hitler ordered that Paris should be levelled when his armies retreated from it, but General von Choltitz refused. So, until yesterday, most of its great cultural landmarks remained unharmed.

Until yesterday.

Four days ago the area around the Gare du Nord were on fire. Someone had been killing young men in the predominantly muslim areas around there, and they had finally been found out. Foreign agents- common thought has it they were American, and yesterday’s events give it credence- were operating in France’s capital assassinating suspected terrorists.

Gangs of young, angry Parisians took to the streets, torching and looting any American symbols they came across. I don’t think there’s a McDonalds left standing in the city. I didn’t go out of my hotel after dark, when the rioting was worst, but I wandered out in the morning. I have uploaded the pictures.

It was during the second day of rioting that the culprits were flushed out. They were armed, and they fought back when they realised they faced a lynch mob.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, or checking the blog regularly you’ll probably have read some of my frightened messages after I found myself driven before the mob as they dragged the assassins to the spot they were to be executed.

In the crowd at an execution isn’t somewhere I want to be again. As the eight men were lined up to be shot in the back of the head with their own guns I managed to work my way to the edge of the crowd and down an alley. I wasn’t the only one. Scared, angry and disoriented people were drifting out of the crowd, trying to get back to sanity. We didn’t run until we heard the crack of the assault rifles. The gendarmes didn’t stop us as we streamed past them. They were closing in on the heart of the crowd.

I took pictures that day as well. I haven’t uploaded any of those, none of them were that good.

Travel out of the city was restricted. The hotel staff had managed to hoard some food and had left bread, pate and wine in my room with a note in stilted English suggesting I didn’t leave the building until it had been declared safe to do so. I settled into my room to watch CNN and see what they were telling the rest of the world about the riots. There was no mention of the rumours that the assassins were believed to be American.

I was quite safely to the south of the river. The view from my room presented a vista of the north of the city, framing the Eiffel tower. I set my camera up on its tripod, having to wedge it between the window and the bed, and set it off taking pictures on time lapse at one every thirty seconds. I worked out that the memory card would fill with a day’s worth of pictures and I could do a time lapse movie of a day of rioting.

I was about to nod off when the room lit up with a yellow flash. The roar of the explosion and the shockwave hit a long half a second later. The windows were open, but they rattled against the walls. One of the curtains was ripped from its rail and whipped across the room.

When I picked myself up off the floor the room dust was filtering in through the window. I crawled over to the window. The tripod was still standing where I had wedged it, the camera still taking pictures of the devastation.

From the near bank of the Seine, where the Eiffel Tower had been, a mushroom cloud rose. All the buildings halfway from the epicentre to my hotel were on fire. The camera took another picture.
I don’t think the bomb was a nuke. I don’t think it was powerful enough. But it was huge. Sirens were going off everywhere. There was commotion in the corridor outside my room. But, it took me a while to realise, the television was still on. We still had power.

That was yesterday. I’ve been told not to leave the hotel, but the staff have been around with more food and water and the electricity stays on. I even found an open wireless network this afternoon, which is why I can send this out. I’ve been through the photos on the memory card and I think I’ve found one taken right at the moment the bomb went off. I fact, I think the bomb went off when the picture was already half exposed. The ghost of the Eiffel Tower is in the centre of the image, directly under the bright white burst of the explosion. CNN says the explosion was a terrorist device set off under the Eiffel, but this picture says otherwise.

I will upload as many pictures as bandwidth allows, and sit here waiting for a way out of the city.

The bomb, it turned out, was a MOAB, a Mother of all Bombs or, to give it its proper name, a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb. The full story has yet to be revealed of how it came to be dropped on Paris. The insanity in Germay kicked off at the same time, so it had to be part of the whole madness in the States. Maybe they’ll be able to dig something out of the ashes of Washington that’ll explain how the President was allowed to go so far and why so many went along with the war for so long.

Two days later they arranged an evacuation of Paris fearing further bombing since war had been declared. Britain was claiming neutrality, offering safe haven for any US servicemen who wanted help getting home. There were trains back to the UK, but the borders were going to be closed soon. I’d been offered ridiculously large amounts for my Paris explosion pictures. I could head back and live off my one momentary brush with history, safe and sound.

But there was news of an American army group fighting its way out of Germany and a fleet patrolling the Mediterannean. There were going to be lots of chances for further brushes with history. I tagged my suitcase and sent it home and walked out of the station with a backpack filled with one change of clothes, a laptop and a camera.