Yesterday, I was sitting in a cafe in Paris having a nice meal.  You can imagine a nice little cafe in the heart of the town, sun setting, air cool and a calm descending on a busy day.  Actually, I was at one of the main train stations.

Everything was going very well finding my way from the small French town where I spent the last 9 days, on a bus, to a train and then another train to the Metro.  The walk through the Metro to the number four was very long with my heavy bag with the days of camping, getting little sleep and everything stirred up with intense yoga sessions.  I was excited to discover I had a few hours to wait before the overnight train was due to depart. I just need to put my heavy bag into a locker and head out.

The last time I was in Paris, it was 1987, I was at the airport waiting for my plane.  We could not leave because they were fixing something on the plane and it could be fixed any minute, which turned out to be nearly 200 minutes. My second trip to Paris would be different. The sign at the baggage counter read, “For security reasons the baggage storage area is closed”.

Finding a helpful information person, they inform me that due to the threat of bombs, there was no place to store a bag at the station. I was then pointed to the middle of the train station to a nice-looking cafe. Being practical, tired, hungry, and not willing to lug around a heavy bag any longer than necessary, I headed over to the cafe, found a front-row table, and settled in for an enjoyable relaxing meal. After all, this was still Paris and I was not stuck in an airport terminal this time.

Drinking an espresso, which I have come to really enjoy living in Europe, I was reading my English language newspaper to catch up on what was happening in the world and get the latest on the Olympics.  This nice-looking older woman sitting at a table behind me, asks the woman next to her if she would watch her bag. Speaking no French I guessed she was off to the restroom.

Across from me high up on the station wall was a sign in English. In France, nothing is in English so this really caught my attention. It read, ‘Warning, bags left unattended will be immediately destroyed’.  In the next moment three very serious security men come strolling by carrying machine guns with their fingers poised very near to the trigger.  Bomb threats, guys with machine guns, warning signs, and an unattended bag directly behind me. I begin thinking – how long should it take for a woman to go to the bathroom if that is what she was really doing. What if she does not come back for ten minutes.  What is the length of time for a standard bomb to detonate?

I am pulled out of my thoughts as alarms go off and three more security men run past. This does not reduce my slight feelings of paranoia.  Not really fear, but a health concern for my situation.  Just then the old lady reappears, looking nearly as relieved as I felt.  That was until the three army guys who just rushed past were returning carrying a small black backpack. I was thinking about the guy carrying this potential bomb.  As they headed off, presumably to destroy this bag, I listened for the boom, but thankfully it never came.

I had another espresso, finished my salad, paid my bill, and headed off to board the train to Frankfurt.

Update: August 2015 I was again in the Paris train station. I went to see that nice cafe I enjoyed many years ago, it was not there. Instead was a Starbucks. But this time there were no ominous warnings or suspicious older women with luggage.

Original story from August 2003.

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