“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” – David Levithan

My blog posts all seem to start in the same way, so I might as well get it out of the way immediately: I’m sorry for not writing anything for absolutely ages. The apology must, of course, be followed by the same old excuse: I’ve been really busy. There. Now that that’s done and dusted, I’ll get on with telling you what’s been going on over the last few weeks here in the throbbing metropolis that is Laval.

In fact, life here is generally ticking over quite nicely. Of course, the same cannot be said for the whole of France, which has been shaken to the core by Friday’s horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. When I was crossing the city early on Saturday morning (more on which in a second), the atmosphere was thick with an overwhelming sense of fear and grief; the scale and violence of the attacks has still not really sunk in for anyone. The only thing that I can really express here is my horror and sadness, both of which have been made all the more palpable by the fact that the attacks took place in my (albeit temporary) country of residence. The title of this post is a small, almost meaningless gesture of peace and respect to everybody affected by the attacks, no matter how indirectly.

The reason I went through Paris on Saturday morning was to go home for the weekend. In a very uncharacteristic moment of decisiveness last Sunday, I spontaneously booked train and Eurostar tickets back to Oxford – and I can safely say that it was possibly the best decision I’ve made so far on my year abroad. Six of my best friends very kindly offered up their abode (#galpad) for a party on Saturday night, and friends and wine combined to ensure that an excellent evening was had by all. Never has the phrase “short but sweet” been more apt. The decision to go ahead with the visit, specifically the part requiring a trip across central Paris from Montparnasse station to Gare du Nord, was one made at 5.45am on Saturday morning after a night spent obsessively refreshing The Guardian’s live feed on the attacks. The metro journey was extremely nerve racking and I’ve rarely been as relieved as I was to reach Gare du Nord. Writing this, it has just hit me that I am fortunate that I was able to so easily leave the physical space; it will be quite some time, however, before the residents of Paris will be in any way able to distance themselves from Friday’s events.

When I finally got to Oxford (where it was raining, classic) more than seven hours after having left Laval, the fun began.

With my beloved falafel and my even more beloved friend

Seeing lots of my friends at Saturday night’s party was absolutely fabulous, and, when I left Oxford on Sunday afternoon, I felt that I’d learnt an important life lesson, as cringeworthy as that sounds. I’d realised that true friendship is oblivious to time and distance; without exception, I honestly felt that nothing whatsoever had changed between myself and any of my friends since the last time I saw them. And that, amidst the uncertainty and fear brought about by the events in Paris, is a very comforting realisation indeed.

I am well aware that, despite my pledge at the start of this post to update you on the last few weeks of my life, I’ve actually only written about the last three days. However, my bed is looking increasingly inviting and so I will love you and leave you and promise (perhaps, regrettably, emptily) to write something again soon. Ma vie française is going by at an alarming rate, and events such as the terror attacks in Paris serve as a horrible reminder that life is short; I intend to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way over my remaining three months here in Laval.


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