La Belle Équipe reopened today.
It’s been closed since the terrorist attacks of Nov. 13 in Paris. The terrorists apparently chose it as one of their targets because it was a typical Parisian café/restaurant with a “terrasse”, or patio. Under this theory, they intentionally chose places where Parisians often socialize, with the aim of sending the message that nobody is safe.
I happened by at 1 p.m., shortly after they reopened. Several diners were already inside, having lunch. The atmosphere was “chalereux” – warm, literally and figuratively. And it was clear that all the tables were set up for a full menu. In such cases, I ask if it’s all right to have just a coffee. The waitress said certainly, and asked if I’d like to sit at the bar (two of the three places taken) or outside. Outside, I replied.
And so I became the first customer to sit on the patio of La Belle Équipe since nineteen people died there.
I wasn’t aware that I was the first; after all, somebody could have had breakfast there. But after sipping my coffee and taking some pictures, I asked the waitress, who confirmed my status.
I was aware, however, of those entering the restaurant. Was this one armed? Did that one think I’m an undercover cop? Surely the reopening of this spot would be noticed by the media, and who knows if some terrorist might decide to strike?
Soon after, a couple of other folks sat at the table next to me. Somebody passed by, going directly inside. Suddenly, a scrawny young man was standing in front of me, waving his cigarette. Why?
Turns out, he just wanted to use the ashtray on my table to stub out the butt. Phew.
So I, too, was starting to think exactly the way the terrorists wanted. Was I being brave? Foolhardy?
I’d say neither. I was just living my life, with my level of faith being higher than my level of fear.
Last time, I wrote about making decisions based on fear. Someone challenged me, saying that Trump supporters were more likely angry than afraid. And I realized I hadn’t been clear. My point wasn’t to distinguish fear from other related emotions, like anger, but rather to distinguish fear from faith.
And it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Who among us is a saint? A dear friend once told me that all actions have mixed motives – the important thing is to be aware of them and act accordingly. When my primary motive is fear (or its cousin, anger), I know it’s time to take another look.
La Belle Équipe is a fifteen-minute walk from the Comptoir Voltaire, where I occasionally have lunch with my friend Charley. It, too, was a terrorist target on Nov. 13, although the only person who died was the coward who blew himself up. I had lunch there recently with Charley, a sign to me that Paris is returning to normal. I noticed the floor wasn’t level; the table was wobbly. Oh, Charley assured me, that’s because they haven’t fully repaired the hole in the floor from the bomb. Sweet.
La Belle Équipe is directly across the street from where another friend works. His window looks out onto its patio. Fifteen minutes in the other direction on foot is the Bataclan, a café and concert hall where 89 died. I had been there only once, on a Saturday afternoon, for coffee with still another friend. My doctor is just down the street. I decided to walk over and see if it’s going to reopen soon.
There weren’t any signs posted, but a construction crew was at work and the stacks of flowers at the site have been cleared away. I checked online, and they hope to host concerts again by the end of this year. I imagine the café could reopen sooner.
Spring has begun. Life is good.