We didn’t intend to book this hotel in Nice. Not this particular hotel. We just chose the one which seemed to have the nicest pool and rooms. We hadn’t intended to book the actual hotel, directly outside which a murderous 19 tonne battering ram truck was finally halted, having massacred 86 innocent people in 5 minutes of pure horror. People who didn’t intend to be victims of a crazed radical. They had come out to celebrate Bastille day, to watch an air display, to enjoy the music and the fireworks, celebrate the fraternity and the buzz of a summer party crowd on a promenade overlooking the sea.
Instead they died, brutally and callously mowed down by a lump of metal travelling at 55 miles an hour through the packed crowd, driven my a man with no conscience, no humanity, no discrimination and no restraint.
It ended with him being shot, and the killing spree ended, on the strip of road I can see from the balcony on which I sit. Three months later I am trying to fathom and grasp – whilst at the same time avoid – this horrific reality.
As I look down on the same sea, on the same road, on the same promenade – life continues for those for whom it can. Cars and lorries continue to drive, tourists amble along the pavements. Runner run and cyclists cycle. Pasta is served in restaurants, beer is consumed. The world has an unerring tendency to carry on, almost regardless. Nobody speaks of the tragedy, but it is in everyone’s minds – unspoken and unexpressed.
As we crossed the road yesterday, we noticed some fresh flowers by a tree and a Norwegian flag. Attached to the tree were two photographs of Saskia, a 29 year old German woman who was one of the victims. Handwritten, in the ink and tears of bottomless grief, the simple word “fur meine tochter”. She was called Saskia.
As a father of a daughter in her 20s, such a loss is unimaginable. And his child and was just one of 85 more. There were 10 children, 29 nationalists and poignantly, 30 Muslims. But we must beware of the headlines of numbers and statistics – a life is a life, a death is a death, whether it is one alone or one in 86. A murder is a murder. A life stolen, and countless lives around it vandalised irrreparably.
Yesterday as we walked into the old town of Nice, further along the same promenade, we came across the Kiosque a Musique – a circular bandstand. There is no band and no music here – instead it sounds loud with the music of tributes and memorials for the 86.
It is completely covered outside with banners, photographs, writings, memorabilia, stones and candles. We walked around solemnly, reading and absorbing the personal and corporate grief and disbelief. Heart rending expressions of sympathy, horror and defiance.
We walked up the steps – in the middle of the bandstand is a huge pile of of soft toys. Hundreds of teddy bears and other furry animals. It took my breath away. Each one was an expression of sympathy from family, friends and fellow humans. Not all of the victims were children – but these soft toys were for every one – whatever their age. All of them as vulnerable and loved as children. Some wore messages – one simply said “I love you”‘.
There is nothing like loss to strip bare the reality of our love for those close to us – however much we may hide it whilst they are alive.
We came here purely for a holiday – we had no connection with any of those killed. We had known of the attack, of course. But we had only thought of it in terms of our own safety. From the distance of middle england, we thought a place where there had been a recent attack was likely to be safe with a heightened level of security. Since we have been here, we have seen soldiers on the streets with guns.
What we hadn’t thought about was the impact of being so close – literally yards away – from 86 deaths less than 100 days ago. And being so close, it is impossible not to feel – however inadequately – some echo of the horror, loss and tragedy of this attack.
“She had high hopes.
She was a student of philosophy
Won’t you grieve with me
For my yellow rose
Shed a tear
For her bloodstained clothes”
I thought of Saskia, and the other 85. When I finished my run , I sat for a while on a bench outside our hotel, facing the sea. Behind me, painted in large colourful letters on the pavement:-
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
There is nothing there about security. Just Liberty. Which shall we have? Are we to secure ourselves against any possibility of attack at the cost of our liberty? How can we protect ourselves against the lone madman, who is hell bent on sacrificing his own life whilst taking as many other lives as he can? There is no gamble for the suicide terrorist. He will risk all, because he values nothing. He has no care for liberty, equality or fraternity. His is almost an impossible hand to defend against. But defend we must – for liberty demands security. Without security there is no freedom, only threat and fear.
As I sat there, on the Promenade des Anglais, outside the Palais de la Méditerranée, I imagined the horror of a maniacal lorry speeding towards me, just as one did, right here 3 months earlier. We cannot imagine it because it is unimaginable. We cannot make sense of it because it is senseless.
I shed tears for the victims, and wondered what I could do to help make this crazy world a little safer.