La Belle Équipe, my local café in Paris
I stayed in the 11th arrondisement in Paris in October 2015 on rue Godefroy Cavignac, a humble little side street that intersected with rue de Charonne, near La Belle Équipe. A neighborhood café, La Belle Équipe had a mix of Parisians depending on the time of day. I went there several times during my stay, to drink coffee and watch the world go by.
One of the waitresses there struck me, not just because she was one of those effortlessly chic French women, but also because she was kind to me. My French, while having improved slightly since then, is shit, and she just went with it, more amused than anything else.
Most of the times I went there, she waited on me, and while I’m sure she didn’t give me a moment’s thought, I remembered her, as I do sometimes with café or restaurant staff. Traveling solo, I don’t often talk with people, so those I do interact with are etched in my mind. I never know their names.
Je Suis Charlie and the 11e
The 11e had been the site of the Charlie Hebdo attack some months earlier. My host seemed concerned that I know that the neighborhood was safe; he stressed it a few times as he gave me the tour. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that something like that would happen again, though I saw “Je Suis Charlie” signs everywhere around the arrondisement, and I happened to walk by their office after dinner my first night, realizing where I was only after I saw the soldiers. Otherwise, I didn’t think of it at all.
La Belle Équipe was my last stop in Paris that trip
Just before I left for the airport later on a Monday morning, I popped over to La Belle Équipe for a last coffee. I nearly said goodbye to my waitress, but I did not, feeling a bit foolish and suspecting that she likely would find it strange. I snapped a quick photo of the café, but not of her. She stood by the bar, tall, in a green skirt.
13 November 2015
The following month, on this day, 13 November in 2015, 19 people were murdered at La Belle Équipe, one of the most horrific sites of the Paris attack. I have a friend who knew people in the 11e, the owners of a cocktail bar that I’d gone to while I was there, and she and her friends had been texting. She then texted me what she’d learned. Her friends were safe, hiding behind the bar with the lights out and the door locked.
My friend then told me that rue de Charonne was the site of some of the worst shooting. I thought immediately of La Belle Équipe, and my heart sank.
Her name was Hodda Saadi
Her name was Hodda Saadi, and she was murdered while celebrating her 35th birthday on the terrace of La Belle Équipe. Her sister Halima was also murdered. Her brother survived.
Hodda Saadi dreamed of having her own restaurant one day. Her friends praised her fashion sense. She traveled. Her family was from Tunisia, though Hodda was born in France.
Hodda had been a waitress at several other Paris restaurants, and her reputation for being an excellent server had patrons asking after her long after she’d moved on. “She could talk to everyone about everything,” a colleague said of her.
I can say that the last part is true.
I remember Hodda Saadi when I think of Paris on a brisk October day. And I remember her on this day, 13 November.
La Belle Équipe reopened in March 2016. I look forward to returning.