The night Nice changed forever - 14th July
Note from the editor: We have a received a personal account of what happened on the evening that changed the lives of so many in Nice forever, on Thursday 14th July. The Riviera Woman has decided to withhold the identity of the author, who we know very well. The tragedy has touched us all and in so many ways. We hope that by demonstrating a united community we can overcome such acts of violence and to start and invest precious time on building bridges, creating hope, creating a future where such acts of violence that took place in Nice will not result in our society, our community existing and living in fear. We must unite not divide.
My eldest daughter had gone off to Cannes to see the fire-works with her family. I had decided that I didn't want to go, I know what the traffic can be like on these occasions. I sat in the garden in the late afternoon and read. After a while I felt like a walk and the obvious place to walk to was to the centre of the Promenade in Nice to see the firework display - no traffic problems, no parking problems. I didn't bother to take my bag, I just took my house keys and off I went. I decided to walk down to the area of the Promenade which was opposite the barges where the fireworks were to be set off. It was about 9 o'clock and the sky wasn't yet completely dark and it would take me about three quarters of an hour to reach the spot and I knew that it would be dark by the time I arrived. It was a lovely warm evening with a breeze which kept it from feeling too close. There were many people walking along with me, and there were crowds on the shore often sitting in large family groups; some people were still bathing.
There were masses of holiday makers, and I could hear a mix of different languages as I walked along. I thought: 'this is how it should be, it should be like this the world-over, a lovely mix of nationalities, how fascinating this planet is'.
I arrived just before 10 o'clock when the fireworks were due to start. I was in a good position and among a large expectant crowd. Children were perched on their father's shoulders to get a better view, and it passed lazily through my mind that this would be a prime place for a bomb!
The fireworks were lovely. Cascades of brilliant light, ferns of fire falling in cateracts of gold, then came halos of rainbow colours that exploded high above shooting psychedelic patterns at our upturned faces. At the end of the display the crowds clapped in appreciation and the people started to move away in different directions.
The Promenade had been given over to pedestrians, traffic having been blocked off further to the west at Boulevard Gambetta. It was lovely to feel free to walk along the roadway for once, free of traffic, free of noise. There were a few policemen dotted about with guns. I only saw a handful.
I started to walk westwards towards the airport side of Nice and when I reached Boulevard Gambetta I and the others had to leave the road to once again walk on the pavement. The pavement is wide on the sea-side of the Promenade and there were a lot of people walking along with me, and of course there were some coming in the opposite direction.
I hadn't noticed at the time (I took a mental note afterwards) that I had reached the level of the CUM, a big villa across the road on the town side of the Promenade. I was walking along in the centre of the pavement not looking ahead especially. Then I heard screams. I faced forward and saw two blazing headlights, and in those lights I saw the silhouettes of people leaping in different directions. I leapt. I leapt to the left along with some others. I looked up to see what seemed like the cabin of an armoured van, the ones the banks use for collecting money. A split second thought, "my God, a lorry out of control." As I looked it thundered by. There were thumps. Then I looked at the place where it had passed.
I can't remember hearing screams although there must have been more screaming. I saw a mother run off carrying her young child, shielding its eyes from the horror. I stood there gazing, rooted to the spot, my hands cupped against my mouth. All I could do was to cry louder and louder "No, no, no, no, no." The lorry had disappeared driving fast in a straight line - a horrendous weapon, the driver bent on death and destruction. I knew this somewhere in my mind, but as an abstraction. What was real were the bodies. My eyes went from one to the other, over and over. None of them moved, there was a terrible stillness to them. To my left a woman lying on her front, her face turned away from me, her handbag still strapped over her shoulder, she was wearing a simple elegant cotton beige dress. There was no blood. In front of me, 2 metres from me, a lad lying on his side with his back to me, he could have been a young teenager, his limbs were still childishly rounded. There was no blood. Further away to my right a young blond girl, her hair clasped in a poney-tail, lay on her side her face turned way from me. There was no blood anywhere, the bodies appeared unharmed, their clothes undisturbed, there was just this dreadful stillness. Lying between me and the woman there was a lump of something the size and shape of a small water-melon, red and glistening.
Nothing moved, nothing happened, where was help? There was no need for help. I stood for I don't know how long. Should I go to the bodies and see...? There was this finality about them. I was frightened, what would I see - a smashed face, a look of terror.
After what seemed a long time, a girl walked hesitantly towards the body of the young girl with the ponytail, she was slim just like the dead girl. She bent over the corps and touched it ever so lightly on the shoulder with the tips of her fingers as if afraid to wake her up. I didn't wait further. I walked on a little way still crying "No, no." A young woman came to me and offered me water, sat me down on a bench. An elderly couple walked by, the woman was crying. They sat down on the bench, we put our arms about each other's shoulders.
Now the young woman that had fetched me a tumbler of water from a beach restautant was dabbing frantically at her mobile phone. "Putain, putain Alice, réponds, réponds" she sobbed, "s'il te plait réponds." (Translation: "Hell, hell Alice, answer, answer" she sobbed, "please answer.")
I thought of my own children. I had no phone on me, I needed to tell them that I was safe. I asked the young person who was sitting with the girl trying to get through to her friend on the phone to thank her for the water, and started off for home. I crossed over the road to the opposite pavement, I wanted to avoid any further scenes of devastation. As I walked, still holding my tumbler of water, I met people who were obviously unaware of what had happened, "Don't go," I told them, there's been an attack." Other people were standing in groups talking. I walked swiftly on, and in spite of myself looked across the road now and then to that fateful pavement. As I imagined there were ambulances and police cars and bodies, these bodies were covered in white sheets. This is why there had been no help at the spot where I had been. Help had started much further up along the Promenade to the west. It would trickle down eventually to the carnage strewn further along the way.
I arrived home and immediately called my daughter and because she was driving her partner answered, "I'm OK." I said. He didn't understand why I was saying this. Then I explained... He reassured me that they would be back in ten minutes. I phoned my other daughter and left a message, she would be in bed and asleep by now, "You'll probably get this message tommorrow, just to say that I'm fine, don't worry, I'll call you."
When my daughter arrived home, she handed me a large glass of whisky. After listening to me she and her family started calling their friends. Social media is very prompt, information passing swiftly from person to person. Everybody in their circle of friends seemed to be safe. I wondered about the people I know. Gradually throughout the next day enquiries came and the news was passed.
What are my feelings? I cannot feel anything about the man who did it. How can you feel something about that which you don't, can't understand?
People say "Thank God you were saved." I can't thank God, if I thank God it is as if I'm saying thank God other people were killed and not me. It's nothing to do with God - it's all to do with humanity - the lack of humanity, it's to do with mental illness, it's to do with ignorance, it's to do with social media used for extolling violence. It's nothing to do with religion, it's to do with using so called religion. Religion in it's purest sense is simple. It is Love. The oneness between God and Man, the "in touchness." Some are out of touch even those who call themselves Christians, Muslims, Jews or Hindus. Some are out of touch, to a greater or lesser extent, with the Ground of their Being.
No it wasn't any god that saved me. It was the screams that saved me, it was the fact that I was walking from east to west that saved me. Death was coming from the west and I saw it just in time.
There was a service in church the Saturday after the (what word to use? "Event" too mundane, "incident" even more trivial) the horror. Up until then I had not been able to cry. It was here that at last I was able to cry.
Trouble, trouble everywhere...
With tragedies here and nightmares there.
Far too much pain to bear...
Through the tears the smiles will come...
Songs we will sing and tunes we will hum.
My heart awakens, my soul still numb...
But we are strong and we are bold...
We will march and your hand I will hold.
Black, white, young and old...
Our love will win for it has no price...
Less words, more action to be precise.
So KEEP CALM, and LET'S BE "NICE"...