James and Brian From Paris: ‘The night started out normal …’

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James Brian and family in Paris jpg

We’ve spoken with James Santos many times here on A News Cafe.com, and he’s been written about even more. So I knew I wasn’t the only one on Fri., Nov. 13, whose thoughts went to the globe-trotting precious family of James, his partner Brian Catanio, and their two children, all of whom currently live in Paris.

Good news. They’re all OK. But I wanted to hear for myself that all was well with these former Redding guys and their son and daughter, all beloved by so many here in the north state. I thought you might like to hear from them, too.

Q: James, before we talk about what happened in Paris last Friday, for those who haven’t kept up with you and Brian, what are you guys doing in Paris, and how long will you be there?

James Santos

James Santos

Doni, I am presently working on a show that I have been with for a year now. Right now we are in our European Tour portion. In April we started in Madrid, Spain. We spent four months in Spain, then two months in Brussels, Belgium, and we are now in Paris for two months. We actually just opened the show the first week of November here in Paris, and are preparing to be here until January 3.

After than we will head to London to perform at the Royal Albert Hall for a few months. The plan has been to spend one year away from the U.S. with this show, but my contract with the company does not finish then, so we could stay longer. Ultimately, the goal would be to work on a resident show in one of our cities, or on one of our new creations.

Q: That’s quite an itinerary, especially since the kids are are traveling with you and Brian, correct?

Yes, Brian and the kids joined on tour here in Europe back in May. Most of the weeks we have had amazing times. We’ve seen many cities, towns and villages. We’ve met interesting people, eaten different foods and are having daily history lessons, as just being in Europe provides us all with these.

lucca leaping

We are also doing our own homeschool program on the road to keep the kids up to date with their math, reading and writing. It has been awesome to see how many lessons there are in daily life alone. As the teachers we pull from all the resources we have.

James Brian and family in Portugal

In addition to these experiences we also have had to learn to live in very small quarters at times, and sometimes have had zero privacy. We’ve lived without many material things we thought were so important to our daily lives.

The kids have learned so much here, such as just because a woman seems to have a baby in her blanket and is asking for money, it does not always mean she is being honest, or is in need, or that when people have a protest that goes from peaceful to scary, it is usually because of hurt feelings coming out in anger.

Our kids have learned to drag their suitcases from Spain to Portugal and back to Spain. We’ve gone from France to Belgium to Amsterdam and back to France. We have taken subways, trains, boats and a car. S far, we have learned to say please, thank you and where is the bathroom in four languages.

Q: What an education this European tour has been for you all. But I imagine terrorist attacks was not on your list of lesson plans.

On the night of the Paris attacks, so many here in the north state thought of you guys and worried about you, hoping you were OK. I cannot even imagine what it was like for you and your family.

The night started out as normal, I had finished a very normal evening of performance to a enthusiastic audience here in Paris. As I was preparing to get on the bus I take back to our hotel each night, a friend of mine said, “Hey, be careful. I hear there were some people with guns and shooting.”

By the time I got on the bus everyone was talking about it. It was strange, as usually if something like this happens we have a plan of action, but since it happened as we were leaving our site, no one really knew the intensity of the situation. I immediately texted Brian to tell him to turn on the TV – that something was happening, to which he replied, “Yeah, shooting and bombs.”

This event brings back lots of memories, as the last time it was Brian who had called me to say, “Turn on the TV,” and that was back in 2001 when he called me a few blocks from the World Trade Center. That night it was eight hours until I heard from him again when he arrived to our home in the Bronx.

Friday, as I arrived home here in Paris, we just watched in horror as the events unfolded. I immediately posted to good ol’ Facebook that we were OK,  and then I called my Mom. It really is like a routine now, but most of the time, good or bad I start with Mom. This time, being so far away, I was not sure if I could reach her.

The night continued on as we heard ambulances, even from where we are located, which is about 10k (a little more than 6 miles) away from the Bataclan. The emails were flying back and forth all night and the BBC was on. We stayed up until 4 a.m.

Q: What a horrible night. And the next day, how in the world did you explain to the kids what happened?

When the kids woke up the next morning we called them in to the room. We knew we needed to explain what happened. We knew the attacks would change some of our previous plans, and we knew the kids would be wondering why I was not going to work. But mainly, we just wanted to help them understand their reality.

We told them what had happened. Honestly, the same question kept coming up. Why? Why? Why?  We found ourselves really trying to understand the answers to that same question, and realized how uneducated about the situation we were.

We decided that in the end, no matter how much we educate ourselves, it still does not change the same questions our kids asked: Why? And how could any human being cause harm to another? The attacks are something I am so unfamiliar with, and have no explanation for.

How did the kids take the news?

Rocco went into defense mode, and explained how he was going to be an Army guy and put the bad guys in jail.

Rocco with soccer ball

Lucca went directly to her art book, and begin drawing a picture.

lucca drawingBoth reactions were normal, and as expected. Kids are amazing in times like these. We are so proud of them.

Q: Well, I give you and Brian a lot of credit as stellar parents who were as open as you could be about what happened. You talked about it with them, and allowed your kids to process this terrible thing in their own way.

Going forward, how have the attacks effected how you feel about Paris now, or whether you’d even want to stay?

Yes, my first reaction to events like this is always, “How the heck do we get out of here?”

We even thought about running out to the countryside, just to escape a bit. I also may have looked at flights back to the U.S., in case we felt the need to just pack it in and leave.

But in my heart I know that we are put in these places for a reason, and to leave now would change what we feel is in the plan. We must be here to help someone else for a moment, a minute, hours or days. Maybe it’s to smile at the man who never looked me in the eye last week, or to leave the door open a little longer for the stranger.

It is in times like these that I find people can be more comfortable reaching out to one another, and it is in that unity that will make this city get back to life.

Q: Beautifully put, James.

So, aside from how you, Brian and the kids are coping as a family, what’s the atmosphere like in Paris since the attacks?

At this point I am only seeing the presence of police and military more than before. Of course, it’s frightening to Lucca and fascinating to Rocco. To me they are a sign of growth for this city, to face the reality of the future.

I have some hesitation about wandering around the city, but I am sure in a few weeks that will fade a bit, and we will be out celebrating the holidays right in the heart of Paris.

Q: I hope you can do just that, and enjoy your holidays in Paris. Is there anything else you’d like us to know, James?

I just want people to know we are OK, and that every message we have received meant a lot to Brian, the kids and me. It is important to keep sending prayers and positive thoughts to each person, and at every moment you think of them, in times of despair and delight.

We feel blessed to have so many good people back in Redding who care about us.

I’m glad you can feel the love from your hometown, so far away. Thank you, James, for taking time to talk with me. Give my best to Brian and the kids. Be well, and stay safe.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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