Tragedy on the Riviera: When Fear Hits Home
After the Bastille Day attack on the French Riviera, an expat writer reflects on the recent tragedy in her adopted hometown of Nice.
At 11:13 p.m. Thursday night, Stephanie, a good friend from my hometown of Nice, messaged me. “Are you ok?!”
“Yes, why?” I responded back, confused. I had just left Nice for Stockholm on assignment for the week. It was another year I missed the annual beachfront Bastille Day fireworks on the Promenade des Anglais.
“Something is happening in Nice, but I’m not sure what’s going on,” she replied.
When a series of terrorist attacks happened in Paris last November, I was sitting in a hotel room in Mexico City. My phone starting chiming with messages of every form: social media, text, e-mail. At the time, I’d been living in Nice for two years. While that time seemed short, France already felt like home. The week before the Paris attacks, I sat on a terrace sharing a carafe of cheap red table wine with a friend—just a few restaurants away from the Bataclan theater. It was hard to believe we had been right there, and felt so comfortable and safe sitting in the cool autumn air doing what you do so naturally in France.
That mood shifted drastically in the days following the Paris shootings. Friends, family, and acquaintances reached out to me, even though Nice is more than 500 miles and five hours by train from Paris. I was touched by the concern, but I was also frantically trying to touch base with my friends on the ground in Paris, trapped in restaurants and bars while the horrifying scene unfolded outside.
Everyone asked if I could feel the mood shift in Nice following those events. But Nice was still the sunny little resort town sitting quietly on the Riviera, albeit with more armed guards patrolling the airport and Old Town streets.
I moved to Nice as a freelance journalist from Miami, a city where shootings and stabbings happen daily. A city where you double check your car is locked as you drive through rougher parts of town. But living in Nice alone in my studio apartment, I felt safe. Why would anyone attack Nice? What did she have to offer terrorists? The Nice I knew was pebble-strewn beaches and sun-drenched terraces, where friends and I sit for hours on Sundays sipping espresso.
Last night—just eight months after the attacks on Paris, and when the capital seemed to be recovering—the unsettling yet familiar stream of messages started flooding in. My sister: “Call mom immediately.”
My best friend in San Francisco: “I love you. Are you OK?”
Friends who were there witnessing the events starting posting immediately to Facebook. “We were close by. Hundreds came running past but we are safe. Horrendous scenes,” one wrote.
Others posted from hotels like the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée and Hôtel West End along the promenade, right in front of the scene of the accident, trapped inside until 4 in the morning with little information on what was happening out front.
When the safety status feature was installed on Facebook last year, I was relieved to see my friends in Paris checking in as “safe” during the event. I never thought I’d have to one day use this status myself.
Friends and family asked if I ever thought Nice would be a target. You never think your hometown, whether it’s where you’re born or the place you’ve adopted, will be hurt in such a horrific way. You never imagine that your friends, who’ve become like family, will be hiding in restaurants and bars just minutes from your apartment, on streets you walk through every day, fearing for their lives.
While Nice is one of the largest cities in France with a population of over 300,000, it still feels like a village. She’s still a small-town girl who’s not quite as glitzy as her bigger sisters Cannes and Monaco. You walk out of your door and immediately see four or five people you know. You’re on a first-name basis with the butcher and baker, with shopkeepers on your street.
So why Nice? It may take months before anyone uncovers why someone would target our town. But together, we’re all sticking close to her side and becoming stronger than ever before. While most of us living here are transplants from other parts of France, Europe, or like me, the United States, we’ve made this our home, and our neighbors our family. Nissa la Bella, we love you more than ever.