PARIS (AFP) – Since she was “buried” under the dead and dying at the Bataclan concert hall, Laura Leveque has “carried 130 corpses” on her shoulders.
“So I may as well mark it,” she said.
Like dozens of other survivors of the November 13 Paris attacks, Leveque got herself tattooed. “I was soaked in blood and flesh. The dead seeped into me,” she told AFP.
But tattoos have helped the 32-year-old – who says that even two years after the attack she still feels “in limbo” – to get her “body back and transform the horror into something beautiful”.
Now Leveque carries a raven on her shoulder surrounded by smaller tattoos of an eclipse, a snake biting its own tail to symbolise the “cycle or life”, and “flowers growing on a battlefield”.
Three months after she survived the slaughter, Nahomy Beuchet had the date of the attack and ‘Peace, Love, Death Metal’ tattooed on the inside of her arm.
That’s the title of an album by Eagles of Death Metal, the Californian band who were onstage at the Bataclan when the gunmen burst in and began the massacre of 90 people.
For the 21-year-old, for whom time is now “a little abstract”, the tattoo is “a historical anchor”.
“This is my scar,” says Manon Hautecoeur of her lion tattoo and the motto of Paris – ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’ (Battered but not sunk) – which became a defiant slogan after the attacks.
“When you are ‘only’ psychologically hurt you feel you are not a victim because you were not physically injured,” said the young woman, who was close to the Petit Cambodge restaurant when it was sprayed with bullets in one of the drive-by attacks by extremists that night that claimed an additional 39 lives.
David Fritz Goeppinger, who survived the Bataclan, said he feels the same way.
“I didn’t have a wound. I needed something,” the 25-year-old said of his tattoo of the date in roman numerals.
Alexandra, one of several survivors who preferred to give only her first name, was shot in the elbow at the Carillon bar opposite the Petit Cambodge. She had ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’ tattooed as close as she could to the wound.
Ruben, who spent six months in hospital, also had the motto tattooed on his arm. “Without having a big sign saying, ‘I was at the Bataclan,’ I wanted to mark it,” he said.
“Being tattooed is a way of getting yourself a new skin, metamorphosing,” said David le Breton, a sociologist who specialises in body art. It allows people “to reclaim what happened, to honour those who died and the emotional impact of having passed so close to death”. Often the tattoos also mark “inner scars”, he added.
Stephanie Zarev, 44, had a phoenix tattooed on her arm where she was hit by shrapnel, to show that “despite the horror of that night, there’s lots to live for”.
Sophie took two bullets in her leg and now cannot move her foot. She covered her thigh with a huge Mexican Day of the Dead ‘Catrina’ skeleton lady, adding a sunflower tattoo on her foot. “I did not want to sublimate my wounds, I wanted to illuminate” them, the 33-year-old said.
Maureen, who has been working on a photo book on the tattoos with the Life for Paris survivors group, took her time before deciding to get one herself on her side. It reads, ‘Survive: to be reborn, to grow and to die later’.