Atlantans with Paris ties look to future with both wariness, resolve

Atlanta author Collin Kelley has been researching and writing about Paris for 20 years, ever since an unexploded bomb was found on tracks over which the train he happened to be riding on had passed. That was the year that attacks coordinated by the Armed Islamic Group left eight people dead and more than 100 wounded.

During his decades of getting to know the city where “Conquering Venus,” “Remain In Light,” and the upcoming “Leaving Paris” are set, Kelley has become aware of long-simmering issues in refugee communities and said disaffected youths who live in housing developments “marooned” with little access to public transportation and few job opportunities can become swayed by radicals.

“In the 20 years I’ve been going to Paris the city has changed so much, the political climate has changed so much,” said Kelley, whose books touch on decades of unrest, from the student and worker riots of 1968 to the 2005 riots in the city’s suburbs. “Most tourists never see anything beyond the Louvre, Notre Dame. When you start looking outside the heart of Paris you start seeing something far more grim and desperate, and something waiting to ignite.”

He’s among the Atlantans with strong ties to Paris reflecting on what the future holds for their cherished second city.

Reema Ukani, who graduated from Parkview High School in Lilburn, is now a University of California, Berkeley student studying in Paris. She and some friends were blocks away from one of the attack sites, headed out for the evening, when a friend’s text message warned them to turn around and head home.

“We walked quickly and quietly to our building, hoping that we were not at the next target site,” she said in a blog post she shared with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I sat in front of my laptop for the next five hours, watching the horror unfold.”

She urged people not to conflate Islamic State extremists with people of the Muslim faith.

“I, along with many other American Muslims, will always stand on the same moral ground as any American,” she wrote. “Let us stand united in solidarity against those who challenge our sense of freedom and safety.”

Atlanta events planner and writer Lisa Rayner drew parallels to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I was living in New York in September 2001. I witnessed the city that never sleeps become a ghost town as we made our way back to some sense of normalcy,” she said. “Paris, my adopted hometown, will learn to do the same.”

Ann Huff, who with her business partner Meg Harrington makes frequent visits to Paris to stock their boutique Huff Harrington Home and art gallery Huff Harrington Fine Art, had just wrapped up another visit when terrorists struck. Huff penned some thoughts on her flight home Saturday, aimed at the attackers, and shared them with the AJC.

“I will go back to Paris! You have not kept me away,” she wrote. “I will walk the boulevards, take the metro, shop the stores, visit the museums, eat in the restaurants and marvel at the beautiful views on every street corner and bridge, just as I did this past week and always will.”