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first-hand accounts

People finish arranging candles into the word "Paris" next to flowers and messages left at the gate of the French Embassy following the recent terror attacks in Paris on November 14, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Hundreds of people came throughout the day to lay flowers, candles and messages of condolence to mourn the victims of attacks last night in Paris that left at least 120 people dead across the French capital. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks that were carried out by at least eight terrorists.Sean Gallup/Getty Images

I live within walking distance to the restaurant attacked on rue Bichat in Paris, Le Petit Cambodge: a bustling hub with a lot of turnover, featuring glass facades, trendy dangling light bulbs, and waitresses briskly lobbing out bowls bún bò Huế. Adjacent to the Canal St. Martin, it's an area heaving with ever-new restaurants and bars, a draw for locals and visitors trying to ingratiate themselves as such. It's a street I very regularly frequent, although I was in a different part of town Friday evening.

I attended a photography event on the Seine, held on a boat where independent publishers were displaying their wares. The friend I was with was alerted to the attacks via Twitter. At first, we didn't compute the severity, and were wondering whether we should leave or stay, until suddenly we received barrages of texts and calls from friends asking where we were. Around us, people seemed oblivious, perusing books and sipping beer, which made it harder to digest the danger. We took an Uber to my friend's home nearby, the radio announcing accruing horrors and indiscernible attackers as we sped over the river. As I live on the other side of where the attacks occurred, I decided to take the metro the rest of the way home, hoping to avoid the areas cut off from circulation. I headed underground alone, and there was no one. A homeless man, obliviously asleep in a narrow nook, was the only human form I saw until I hit the platform.

Transferring to another metro line, the connecting passageways were completely empty, an alarming urban vacancy of post-apocalyptic proportions. When I got on the train, the mood of the passengers was solemn. As an announcement intoned of the blocked transport, two tourists inquired as to why three metro stops were closed, and a French woman bristled when hearing the news explained to them in broken English. "C'est pas vrai," she said with disbelief. "C'est pas vrai," she repeated, a mantra, a plea.

All along the journey home, I answered frantic friends who texted and called; in turn I checked in with friends I knew who frequented the attacked areas as regularly as I did. "Are you home and safe?" I implored repeatedly as my battery life dwindled. I checked Facebook and saw the slew of posts from assorted Parisian connections, assuring their networks of their well-being, the "likes" accumulating a hundredfold. The spiral of my own thoughts, sad and destructive, didn't feel like they could withstand the banality of a digital thumb's up. Less than year had elapsed since a previous version of this panic had swept my psyche after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

As I exited the metro, one man brushed past me, and his gym bag hit me. I startled, and he turned to apologize. Every gesture suddenly held the threat of potential violence. Such attacks are so chillingly effective because they are carried out in such deeply quotidian venues. Attacking people who assume that they are safe is the best way to eviscerate all normative rapport to the surrounding metropolis. Who needs the scare tactics of no-go zones? If getting Vietnamese food is perilous, what other acts breed risk of violence? If seeing a concert on a Friday night can lead to full-scale massacre, what isn't veiled potential for carnage?

The boulevard above ground from the metro was empty. People in one eatery were conversational across the table, calmly tucking into their pizzas. I walked hurriedly, clenched and tremulous, marvelling at my aloneness in the dead quiet, before being horrified at my own articulation: dead quiet was not a term to implement. A siren careened by as I reached my door. The shrill hysteria of it passed, and unnerving silence lay again in its wake.

I live next to the Buttes Chaumont, the park where the Kouachi brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack had trained with their jihadist network. In the aftermath, the otherwise charming hub of greenery temporarily took on an eerie and ominous quality. In reality the park is filled with lycra-clad runners and toddling children, but it also was a space that held the legacy of men possessed with ruthless righteous lunacy. On Friday, it again took on a new sheen of foreboding, resurrecting the madness that had bred there in an earlier time.

We take ourselves out to places we think are safe -- green spaces and restaurants and concerts and soccer games. Paris will shut down in the wake of its ferocious, bleeding, heartrending attacks, and it will mourn needless death that has now reached into the triple digits. But it shuts down, also, to compute this indelible setback to fluid movement and cultural impulse, and to figure how to rebuild with toxicity in its midst.