9/11 – From The Eyes of a New Yorker in Paris

Remembering 9/11

Sep 11, 2011 by

The wedding announcement ‘save the date’ card arrived in February 2001. Written in French with the beautiful touch of calligraphy that I knew came from my cousin Joseph’s fiancée Ingrid.  A  September wedding in Paris, at the synagogue I’d be tossed out of years ago. How could I resist?

Ingrid was a tall blonde German model that Joseph met at an art opening his last year in university when he did an internship in Berlin. She was a lovely girl. Very bright, with a sharp tongue and the nails to match, I liked her. We met 2 years prior at the French Open when Joseph brought her to our box at Roland Garros. She was a German-Catholic amongst a sea of French Jews and she held her own. I admired the fact that she followed the dress code of the event – something I did not by wearing a cowboy hat.

The French patrons hissed at my family in the private box. And their response, ‘Elle est originaire de New York!‘ And instantly a sign of relief from the gawkers – I’d always wondered if being the only family member born in the states made me different but, I soon realized it was because I am the only one born in New York City.

Parisiens may dislike Americans, but they love New Yorkers. They think New York is the salute to true democracy, the real melting-pot. All of the cultures, fashion, art, gastronomy, media – you name it, is embraced as the gold-standard by the French.

And so it was that on September 9th, 2001 I boarded a 9pm flight for Charles De Gaulle airport and arrived in the morning on September 10th. Just in time for Guillaume Puzo (a nephew of the late author and family friend) to collect me in his Volkswagen Polo. The auto, a war-torn party vehicle that reeked of alcohol and cigarettes from the evening before, was the mode of transportation of he and Joseph the evening before for Joseph’s STAG party.  I was concerned by the smell of him that Guillaume might still be drunk from the night before and then I remembered that he was just ‘French’, so I did not complain.

After we loaded my bags in the back and he made sure I was buckled in and threw a Le Monde in my lap, “Chipie! You must brush up on your Francais, so here read this.” I looked down at the paper with a headline sharing that a famous Afghanistan military leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud also known as the Lion of Panjshir was assassinated with some of his aides the day prior. He had assisted the US government and CIA in ending the cold war and was trying to remove the Taliban from Afganistan. I was riveted by his face he was only 49 when he was murdered but his face looked like that of a man in his 60’s. I began to read the article out loud to practice my French & half way into the last paragraph of the article, Guillaume grabbed the paper from my hands and flung it into the backseat, ‘Chipie, merde! That is so depressing, you are a Jew, you should not be interested in such things. After everything those Arabs have done to us!’ I replied, “Guilluame, I am only half-Jewish and they have not done anything to me personally. Besides I am only in Paris because Joseph & Ingrid invited me. The Baume’s & Gilot’s still refer to me as ‘L’américain de New York’ and are not exactly thrilled that I still live in Atlanta and did not marry a nice Jewish guy!”

‘Chipie, leave it. You are here because we all wanted you here!’ And he proceeded to tell me that Ariane Baume, the youngest of Grandmere Gilot’s five sisters was coming to the wedding and they would be celebrating her birthday (an event that took place mid-week the week prior)on Thursday September 13th.

Ariane Baume, the youngest of the Baume women married twice, a diplomat like her Father who died of a heart-attack and another the first time and a philandering investment banker who cheated the second. She did not sire any children. Family folklore was that she was extremely wealthy. And it was not a secret that she was nonplussed that Joseph was marrying a Catholic!

All I knew was that she NEVER liked me. My brother and I being the two half-breeds: French/Italian, Jewish/Catholic were always treated like outcasts by her. I remember once at the age of 6 when I was sucking on a lollipop she thought the noise I was making was too loud so she yanked it out of my mouth and smacked me. Probably good she never had children.

The evening of September 10th I was still very drowsy from arriving that morning and it was all I could do to slide into a little black dress. I carried the vintage Chanel evening bag that I had inherited from my deceased Grandmere Gilot (Ariane’s second to eldest sister).  I felt that when I packed it, I was bringing a small piece of her legacy with me – she’d be there in spirit.

The party was a hopping affair. The jazz band was in full swing and the restaurant they’d rented Restaurant Le Petit Poucet – with a history of serving food on the waterfront since 1910 was packed to the gills with family and friends. Normally they are closed on Mondays, but since Joseph and Ingrid dined there many times they’d come to know the staff and owners. The owners were kind enough to hold a private party for their favourite patrons on a night that they were traditionally closed – after all the entire staff was invited to the wedding the up-coming weekend.

Le Petit Poucet, a very romantic, yacht house, tucked away in a suburb, just outside of Paris and not too terribly far from the apartment Joseph and Ingrid would be living in after their marriage.

Ingrid and Joseph arrived only 5 or 10 minutes after I had. Ingrid was in a deep indigo blue dress that made her blonde tendrils and blue eyes really stand out. Joseph was wearing a light grey suit with a blue tie that matched the indigo blue confection to a T.  While she is 5’11” and Joseph just at 6’1” they made quite an attractive pair.

Like a king and queen they greeted their subjects lovingly with warm & genuine smiles, kisses and hugs. When they had made their way around to me Joseph picked me up in the air and said, ‘Cousine de New York, Cousine Chipie, you are losing weight, I can still pick you up and squeeze you!’ Joseph had been doing this since we were kids. It did not matter that I was 3 years-older, he still treated me like a little sister because of my small frame. Ingrid shared that they were glad I made the trip and she could not wait to re-introduce me to her parents and to her brothers and sisters.

Tante (aunt) Ariane was there in a wheelchair. She looked almost regal sitting atop her perch. I did not get around to greeting her as her home health nurse had wheeled her off before I could get to her and she vanished into the night.

The night wore on. It was a lovely fall evening. The scents and smells of Paris were not so far away as you could see the twinkling lights of the city of lights at dusk.

That night was so picture perfect and completely magical. One could easily have felt that they dreamt it all.

The next morning from my small room at the hotel in Les Halles, I woke at 6 ish am, then again at 8 ish, 9 ish, 11ish.  The clock was my enemy, I knew from my diary that I had to be at lunch with Ingrid and her sisters at 1pm – they wanted to show me the pictures of the bridesmaids’ dresses and gossip. I was still in a fog as I poured myself to a very cold shower (which woke me up quickly), slicked back my hair, threw on a black cashmere sweater, diesel jeans and a vintage Chanel jacket, with kitten heels before racing to get to the metro station just in time for it to leave as I was arriving.

Once I arrived in St Germain at the café, Ingrid’s favourite because they served sorbetto in a myriad of tropical fruit flavours for dessert, I noticed that they had already killed half-a bottle of Champagne. Ingrid and her sisters came from a privileged lot – well heeled and well-breed Berliners. All tall, blonde, somewhat thin, with curves where they counted most and I felt like a brunette dwarf in their midst. Ingrid screamed as she caught me crossing the boulevard “DOOR-ROW-TAY-YEAH!!! She made it! She made it!”Oui, I replied. Her sisters complimented me on my dress and said in perfect English, I might add, ‘So you’re the New Yorker?’  I replied, ‘well I was born there but, I live in Georgia now.’ One of the sisters shared the story of coming to Atlanta for a visit to Coca-Cola with her company – she is a chemical engineer. They took her to the World of Coke and she commented on how large the people were. I mentioned that they may have been students or tourists. She said she did not know, but that during her week in Atlanta she saw no one with my style of dress. While I thanked her for the compliment I shared that I am a bit of an edgy dresser and that most people did not look like me. Just then Ingrid chimed in ‘Bien sur Chipie, you are a New Yorker and dress as such!’ I laughed off the comment off. We ordered lunch, sipped champagne, perused photographs, shared family gossip and before we knew it, it was 230pm.

Ingrid had to get back to her flat – she was subletting it directly after the wedding and needed to meet potential renters. Her sisters scattered into a cab and asked if I wanted to join them on a shopping trip to Galeries Lafayette. I politely declined. I wanted to walk in Paris and carried a comfortable pair of suede pumas in my bag precisely for this purpose.

Once they were out of sight, I stopped at a park and sat on a bench, changed shoes and immediately began my journey toward Les Marais to see if my old apartment was still standing.

Weaving in and out Parisian streets and finally arriving at the little Arabic café/newstand on corner of the street where my old apartment building still stood. I walked in and rather than sitting at a table decided to sit at the counter and order a coffee. The coffee in Paris in my humble opinion is the best in the world – because they brew Italian!

Just as I sat down I noticed no one was paying attention. They all had their eyes glued to a TV in the corner. I could have robbed them blind, the cash register was directly in front of me. I said ‘Bonjour!’ in my loudest but most respectful voice. Nothing. They were still fixated on the television set. I walked closer to where they were standing and said it again. Again, dead silence. Finally, out of frustration or just persistence the New Yorker in me came out and in English I said, ‘Hey, guys, I know that soccer must be interesting but, may I have a cup of coffee?’ In unison, as if I was able to place them in some sort of trance 4 men turned and looked dead at me. ‘Mademosielle, mademoiselle, vous parlez anglais? Où êtes-vous?’ (Miss, you speak English? Where are you from?).  I hesitantly replied, ’I am an American, from New York City.’  Just then the men parted like the red-sea for Moses and I could see the TV screen. The second plane had just hit the World Trade Center towers. They looked down, one with tears in his eyes as he approached me and shook my hand and expressed his condolences in a hushed tone.

I was visibly shaken and my face flushed with an emotion,that to this day, I cannot quite describe. My heart was literally in my stomach.

They were watching CNN International (the owner must have had a satellite dish). In its mixture of French and English I learned of the hijacking, and viewed the carnage as it had just unfolded. I kept thinking I have to call my friends, family, I have to get ahold of people. I was making a mental list as I’d asked where the nearest phone booth was – the proprietor came with me to his office and said “It is yours.” I dialed everyone who’s number I could remember off the top of my head, Ben Fackler, Dinuka, my cousin Nicolas, I could not get through. I did not feel well and asked where the water closet was? I ran as quickly as I could and once in the stall I began vomiting in the commode. I could not believe my eyes.

I remained at the café until late into evening eyes glued, stomach churning, as I watched the reports come in for the Pentagon, and then word about United Airlines Flight 93 and how it crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, preventing it from reaching its intended target in Washington, D.C.

Feeling helpless as I was unable to get in touch with anyone by phone, cell phone or even email from the lap-top of the young man who was the son of the owner. They peppered me with questions. Fascinated by all of what they saw. They were from Algeria and had experienced acts of terrorism in Africa and in France, but never did they think it would happen in America – Neither did I.

Throughout the day, reports of people jumping, fire fighters & law enforcement workers losing their lives came pouring in. They were attempting to take a toll of the dead and missing. And still no one was answering emails either. I felt as if I was going mad. I had to get back to my hotel. What would happen next?

Paris was cloaked in a somber mood. I walked back to my hotel above ground because fearing reprisals they’d closed down most of the metro stations. Le Monde printed an evening special edition that had the picture of the twin towers aflame at the time of the attacks. It made my blood boil and I still felt so helpless. It must have been nearly midnight when I arrived back at my hotel.

The concierge recognized me from check-in and greeted me immediately in broken Franglish, ‘Mademoiselle Gilot, you have many messages. It seems your family is missing you – you must call right away!’ and just then I felt my feet slip from beneath me and I fell onto the marble floor, knees first. It was not quite a faint but more like an astonished weary act of carrying a burden so long as I felt too numb to walk.

He rushed for me and got me to lie still on a chaise lounge in the lobby while someone else brought me water.  I noticed that I still had vomit on my jeans. I was not well but, all I wanted to know was that my friends, family were okay.

After a time, the concierge made sure I made it up to my room. I fell into bed, in my clothes weeping hysterically. I was so tired and confused.

I had not realized that the concierge perhaps out of respect for me or just from seeing my sad state had placed my phone on DO NOT DISTURB. The next day I woke in my clothes and shoes to several knocks, actually banging on the door, it was my cousin Gregory, Joseph’s older brother. I could see through the peephole that he had coffee and what looked like a white bag under his arm. ‘Chipie, are you okay? Please open up!’ I opened the door. ‘Wow, you look like shit!’ was the first thing out of his mouth. I told him this is what people look like when they are in mourning for a city they love (just as the words escaped my mouth I realized that it was not a dream and it REALLY happened – REALLY). He said, ‘Well you cannot go to your beloved city. They have grounded all flights. It was in Le Monde this morning.’ Gregory was always such a charmer. We all knew he’d be the last to marry. He was very intelligent but was severely lacking in the sensitivity department. My family had sent him to check on me and he did not bother to do so until the morning on the way into the office.

After the terrorist attacks the day prior, they were concerned that someone, learning that I was an American, might have caused me harm. The phone messages were mainly from my cousins, Guillaume, and even one from Tante Ariane.

Gregory encouraged me to get cleaned up and go outside and not sit at the hotel watching television. He left the coffee and a croissant on the counter and went downstairs to make a few calls. My room had no phone or television, it was a small room and not a deluxe suite, but I was very happy to discover that they’d fixed the water issue and I had warm water in the shower.

It was Wednesday, September 12th and I wished I could have turned back the clock to the ladies lunch the day before.

Forty minutes later, in jeans and my navy blue Brooklyn sweatshirt (think John Lennon) I had arrived in the lobby. Gregory was going to take me out for a walk and head into the office after he got me settled into a museum or something of the sort. I was having none of that. I wanted to go to the nearest internet café. He said, that he’d rather I use the computer in his office. So I went with him to BNP

Paribas were he worked as an analyst for people who traded currency. Their office was a ghost town. Seems since the attacks on NYC only the people, the world markets were nearly closed that day. Only the Germans and die-hard Swiss stuck around his office. ‘Great, he said, now you the office to yourself, Chipie. You can use my assistant’s desk.’  He logged me on and I was able to get through to a few friends and read their accounts of what they witnessed and the explanations that there were no communication lines, especially mobile phones that worked that day. And that today it was even worse.

The day was spent hunched over a computer and not really doing much else. I did not even eat lunch. I read and wrote to people most of the day. Sending multiple email updates to family and friends about my Paris trip. And viewing on-line the memorials from all over the world – flowers and cards placed by the American embassies across the globe.

It was 9pm and Gregory, a very driven man was still on the phone when he waived to me and gestured the act of eating. I came into his office and as he hung up the phone I said, ‘Shame you went into finance, you’d of made a great mime!’ He responded, ‘Vas te faire encule! Let’s go eat, but no place fancy, you cannot dine in some place nice in that outfit of yours!’ It was true I was dressed like a tourist from New York City.

When we arrived at a pizza joint and I realized I had not shut up from the time we left his office. I was loquacious about New York City, my friends there, favourite places, restaurants, museums… and even as we ate, my New York stories filled the air. I must have been starving because I demolished an entire neapolitan pizza on my own – to his credit, Gregory never shut me up once. Except at the end when I began to cry because I missed my friends, he dried my tears with a handkerchief from his pocket as the waiter dropped off the check and asked if I was an American. I responded through choked back tears, ‘Oui.’ His response, ‘Je suis tellement désolé (I am so sorry)’.

That night I could not sleep. The images of the day on the internet and my friend’s recounting the stories of the day prior kept me awake. I finally got out of bed at 5:30 and on the dressing table next to my bed went through all of the messages from the day prior – I had realized that I did not call anyone back. I was fixated on my friends in New York City.

It was Thursday, I thought. I looked at my diary and noted the evening’s festivities for Tante Ariane began at 6pm for a cocktail. I had to find a gift, press my dress, do my hair, but first I thought, I want to walk in Paris and see the sunrise. I wanted to know that something still remains the same. I through on clothes, no shower, fixed my hair and threw on a similar wardrobe to the day before only now with my Chanel bag draped over my shoulder.

Once out of the hotel’s front door the boulangerie around the corner was not yet open, but the scents from within were billowing into the streets. I walked and walked to follow the sun as it came through cracks between buildings and burned brightly in the sky. I walked until I reached 2 Avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris, France and saw with my own eyes, flowers, wreaths, cards, posters, placed in front of the US Embassy in Paris. It’s flags at half staff. Before I had the opportunity to get closer the French police began moving people away from the building. I did not speak in English or French so they had not a clue why I was there. I just stood and stared at the American flag and wept openly.

I took the metro toward some consignment and vintage shops in Les Marais & St Germain. I finally wandered into one that had beautiful collection of pillboxes. As I perused the lovely porcelain boxes, I thought how vacuous I feel shopping at a time like this. The shop keeper was kind hearted and patient with my French as I negotiated for a terribly expensive Limoges pillbox with a chinoiserie pattern. He wrapped it lovingly in silk, placed it in a felt pouch, with dusty rose ribbon and smiled at me while he placed it in a bag with the receipt.

He gazed again before I left and inquired, ‘êtes-vous un Américain?, I responded, ‘Oui!’ and in perfect English he said,’I love America!’ and in English  I said, ‘So do I.’ As a tear began to develop in my ducts.

There was no escaping it. I put on sunglasses and began the walk back to the hotel. No metro today. I needed to think.

When I arrived back at the hotel, I had hung a dress the evening before in the shower stall that I thought for sure I would wear that evening. I began to lightly iron the wrinkles out until it was picture perfect. The blue on in my dress almost matched the pillbox I thought.

I arrived promptly at Tante Ariane’s townhome in the 16th arrondissement at 6pm. The houseman, a man who her last husband hired was still in their employ. ‘Bonsoir Serge,’ I greeted him. ‘Hello Chipie, you have grown into a beautiful woman!’ he said. I smiled as he directed me where to place my coat and the gift.

This house was a beautiful place, lots of cocktails parties, artist’s salons, and even I am sure a tryst or two took place within its walls. Pictures in beautiful frames speckled the interior as did some very expensive furnishings Louis IVX chairs, Le Corbusier chaise lounges and an Eames chair or two.

Everyone was assembled in the foyer of the library waiting for Queen Ariane to take her perch. Tonight she would forego the wheelchair and use a walking cane, I was informed by Gregory & Joseph, who was popping bottles of Champagne whilst informing me about the big dinner plans they had for the rehearsal dinner on Saturday night after services.

Ariane, to her credit, always cleaned up well. She began to descend the staircase in a vintage Balenciaga it looked brand new, though I suspected it was from the 1980’s. Her small frame and beautiful face framed nicely. Again, there is that regal quality all the Baume women seemed to have been blessed with.

Half way through the cocktail she smiled at me and gestured for me to come over. After kissing her warmly on both cheeks, she held my arm and whispered the request to have me sit by her when they served the dessert course. I smiled and happily accepted.

The dinner was grand. Eight courses, all French each paired with wine. I kept the crowd going recounting childhood stories of the antics of Joseph & Chipie. The now infamous story of how I was kicked out of the synagogue at 4 years of age – the very place the wedding was to take place in a mere few days. The laughter was a welcome break from the days prior and it was nice to know I could still smile.

They kept the conversation light and nary a mention of 9/11 and the attacks until the dessert was served and we all switched chairs. I excused myself and quietly took the chair next to Tante.

‘You know, I have been watching the news about America very closely,’ she began. ‘New York City is an amazing place – we placed a statue there in solidarity with America. It is a place of peaceful welcomes, yes?’ ‘ We, the French have suffered terrorist attacks in our metro, in our places of worship, and I know what it is to be terrified. We hid when Hitler came. I know terror and how it makes you feel inside. I do. It is un-human. You feel as though you will never smile again. ’ I nodded in acknowledgement.

‘We needed the laughter tonight Chipie. You are very special to us you know.’ In amazement, I replied ‘I am?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘You, are the smile of the family, the light – thank you for being here Dorothéa!’ I looked deeply into her eyes and knew in my heart that she meant it.

About the Author

Dorothéa Bozicolona-Volpe Has Written 19 Articles For Us!

Dorothea is a senior strategic marketing executive, fluent in 4 languages, who specializes in developing new business for national and international brands via strategic partnerships and technology. She specializes in integrating social media into marketing strategies and understanding how to measure, optimize and build current new media efforts to increase value and develop strong relationships between consumers and brands
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  1. april dominy

    Wow! Very well written! I felt as if I was taken back to 10 years ago.

  2. Jason Dominy

    Such good writing and reflections from a different perspective. Really good stuff!

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