France declares three days of national mourning following the deadly evening attack by a truck driver as he ploughed through massive crowds on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice celebrating Bastille Day, July 14th 2016.
What should have been the end of a magnificent day turned out to be one of horror. Bastille Day in France is marked by numerous ceremonies across the country and ends with some spectacular fireworks and none more so than along the French Riviera.
The Côte d’Azur is my home and indeed I have written elsewhere that, if ever a country could be a soul mate then this region, the French Riviera, is surely mine. This particular 14th July I’d spent at home working on a new article for the website. It had been a beautiful sunny day albeit extremely windy which caused a number of firework displays along the coastline to be cancelled. But not Nice.
As I ended my day and slowly retired for the night, I looked out of my bedroom window. The night was still and clear. I could see the garland of coastal lights dotted around Mandelieu-La Napoule twinkling in the distance and the lights of homes nestled in the hills of Grasse. The magic touched me once again and I thought how lucky I was to live here and my heart ached at its beauty.
I fell asleep listening to the World Service until somewhere in the back of my sleepy dreams I caught the words “6O killed in Nice”. I lay there thinking. Nice? Did the man say Nice? It can’t be Nice I said to myself sensibly and chided myself for thinking such a silly thought. No, it must be Syria or some African state – somewhere far away but not here, definitely not here. Not so close to home.
But it was. It was Nice, my Nice, my beloved Nice. In front of my eyes, the Promenade des Anglais, the Negresco and the Palais de la Méditerranée hotel, places I know so well and love passionately were now scenes of utter atrocity. As the tears fell there would be no more sleep for me that night.
How many times did I watch the white 19-tonne lorry speed off? How many times did I watch the stampede of hundreds of frightened people? How many times did I hear their screams? And the death toll kept climbing; 60, 68, 70, 73.
Today we know that 84 people died, at least 10 were children and teenagers. 202 were injured, 25 on life support. Out of the injured 54 were children.
We know the perpetrator was a man called Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old French-Tunisian delivery man. He lived in Nice.
And what else do we know? We know that these three days of national mourning will touch the hearts of many. It will touch those who were there and it will touch those who have suffered similar horrors – in France and elsewhere around this world of ours.
We know that this ill-fated Bastille Day will have changed the lives of many, many people and our hearts go out to them. It will be talked about for days in the media but for a life-time for those who suffered its cruelty.
And we know that Nice will recover from its ordeal. It has done so in its turbulent past and will do so again. The tourists will return and walk once more along the Promenade des Anglais. Things will be the same yet different. The people of Nice will not forget and they may not forgive but they will survive. Of that I’m certain.