PARIS — The name of the new bistro La Belle Equipe translates into “the beautiful team,” and they certainly were that, the clutch of friends who had gathered to celebrate the birthday and success of Hodda Saadi, 35.
The French-born daughter of Tunisian immigrants, one of six siblings, she had worked hard as a waitress, finished a stint at the Chamber of Commerce and had secured an ownership stake in the restaurant.
Along the way, she had collected an eclectic and vivacious set of friends, and they crowded into the restaurant to toast her and their life. As many as 19 died at La Belle Equipe during the Paris attacks, and most, if not all, of Saadi’s party of 12 or so were among them.
Young, fashionable, cosmopolitan — they were typical of the multiculturalism that is on vivid display on the bustling streets surrounding La Belle Equipe and not so visible elsewhere in France.
Gathered were Djamila Houd, 41, a chic woman who worked for the Paris fashion house Isabel Marant. A Muslim, she was married to La Belle Equipe’s Jewish owner.
Many were colleagues from the service industry. Mariana Lacramioara Pop, 29, brought her husband, Ionut Ciprian Calciu, 32; their two children stayed home with Pop’s mother, whom she recently had managed to bring to France from their native Romania. Hyacinthe Koma, 37, from Burkina Faso, brought his fabulous dreadlocks.
Also on the scene were the always-charming waiter Guillaume Le Dramp, 33, who was getting his master’s degree in Italian and Romanian studies at the Sorbonne, and waitress Michelli Gil Jaimez, 27, who had moved to Paris from Mexico and just become engaged to her Italian boyfriend. Ludovic Boumbas, 40, who worked in IT for FedEx, showed up.
The person who had traveled the farthest for the party was Hodda’s sister, Hamila Saadi, 36. Earlier this year, she had moved to Senegal with her husband and two young children; now she was back for a visit.
The 11th arrondissement, where Islamic State gunmen slaughtered dozens, epitomizes the notion of “black, blanc, beur” — black, white, Arab — a concept first idealized in French culture in 1998, when the nation’s ethnically diverse soccer team won the World Cup.
That ease does not necessarily replicate itself across France. In some of the poorer suburbs dotted around the French capital, it’s common for immigrant communities to remain segregated, and the attacks in January on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket prompted new worries among some Jews in Europe.
Politicians on the far-right have found eager audiences with their anti-immigrant rhetoric. Marine Le Pen, whose far-right National Party is expected to do well in upcoming elections, recently called for a “halt” to France accepting any more asylum seekers in the wake of the Paris attacks, where one assailant’s fingerprints were found to match those of a man who had traveled along the refugee route through Greece.
“I think the multiculturalism is the target and the joie de vivre — people going out and having fun,” said a friend of the Saadi family. A son of Algerians who was raised in the 11th arrondissement, he asked to be quoted only by one name, Mehdi.
“People from all over the world live together here, easily. In France, by de facto, people are separate, but in this area they are not, it’s really cosmopolitan,” said Virgile Grünberg, the 27-year-old general manager of Cafe des Anges. As evidence, he pointed out that on a recent night, his staff included nationals from France, Canada, Sweden, Spain and Belgium.
Cafe des Anges,a trendy cafe about a 10-minute walk from the now-shuttered La Belle Equipe, has strong links with the tragedy there, with staff moving between both places as workers and patrons.
In an interview in between running his cafe and visits to the hospital, Grünberg confirmed that two of his employees died and five were injured in the nearby attack.
One was Pop, 29, who had just achieved her longtime dream of reuniting her family in Paris. She had recently moved into a larger apartment, and in August was able to bring over her daughter Tania, 11, whose father died years ago in a car crash, and her mother to live with them.
“We thought of the kids right away,” said Grünberg, who began a crowd-funding campaign to help with the costs of raising the couple’s orphaned children. The kids are being taken care of by Pop’s mother, who doesn’t speak French or have a regular job, he said.
And so when the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls visited his cafe earlier this past week, Grünberg handed him a letter urging the government to give Tania French citizenship and guarantee that she won’t be separated from her grandmother and young brother, born in France.
He described Pop, who had worked at the cafe for four years, as “incredible — a very strong character with a bit of a temper, and very much loved.”
Another one of his employees, Michelli Gil Jaimez, also died that night.
“She knew how to laugh about herself, and we all took advantage of this,” said Grünberg, who recalled with a smile that the staff liked to tease her when she accidentally sprinkled Spanish words in French sentences. He said she loved to go out with friends, “spending all night long talking about life. I think she was of great help to a lot of people because she liked to listen,” he said.
On Saturday evening, many in the neighborhood gathered to remember Ludovic Boumbas, better known as “Ludo,” whose picture appears at memorials around the city next to the word “HERO” for sacrificing his life for his friend Chloe Clement. She remains in the hospital, recovering from gunshot wounds.
“It’s so typical of him,” said Djamel Adane, 35, an Algerian who owns a cafe and recently celebrated Boumbas’s 40th birthday with him.
He said, for example, that when things got heated at a sports cafe they both hang out at, “It was Ludo who pulled people apart.”
Boumbas, who grew up in the north of France, one of two sons whose parents came from Congo, was eminently likable, friends said, and had a memorable laugh.
“He was very funny. He would always be charming to women, even when he wasn’t interested, just as a kind of a politeness. He had cheesy lines about ‘What’s your sign?’, pretending to know about astrology and stuff,” Grünberg said.
On rain-soaked Saturday evening, about 50 people attended a service at a Catholic church, where they lit candles and placed them in front of pictures of those who had died at La Belle Equipe. They then retired to Ludo’s favorite sports bar, where a single candle flickered on the table where he liked to sit. A throng of friends paused for a moment of silence before cheering on Ludo’s favorite team, Paris Saint-Germain, known as PSG.
“He would have liked this,” his friend Adane said.
Anne-Laure Mercier and Souad Mekhennet contributed to this report.