By Rachel Gross
Last Friday, UC Berkeley junior Jasmine Jahanshahi, who had been studying in France, died in a tragic fire in Paris that spread to her room in through the Labyrinth Estate apartments in the Menilmontant neighborhood in the 20th arrondissement. She was 20. Her friend and fellow exchange student, Louise Brown, also perished. Rachel Gross, a Cal senior and frequent Berkeleyside contributor, remembers Jahanshahi and joins her friends in calling for Parisian authorities to make changes.
Sarcastic, sincere and incisive all in one breath, Jasmine was the type of personality who made an instant impression. She mesmerized; she sparkled.
She was a serious student, even for Berkeley. Her perspective was expansive. She studied political history and international law, traveled the world, and was fluent in English, Farsi and French. She was someone you knew was bound to go out and make her mark. But she was more: she was a true and dear friend.
How can anyone distill a person into an essence? I remember extended conversations about international politics, Berkeley feminism, butternut squash, the redeeming qualities of “Late Night Taco Stand” flavored Doritos, the nutritional value of HuFu (human-flavored tofu). I remember her as pure elegance, dressed in a black satin cocktail dress; I remember her staggering out of the bowels of the library at 8 a.m., hair afrizz, squinting through thick frames, still in yesterday’s sweatpants, still stunning.
Jasmine knew when to laugh, when to fight, and when to just make a gangsta face. She had a special place in her heart for communism, and for the heartwarming tales of Harry Potter. Her friends all attest: no one met Jasmine without falling in love with her. She was the best Berkeley had to offer. I only wish I had known her longer.
There is little consolation to give in the face of such tragedy, and all death is to some extent inconceivable. But this one was particularly avoidable. The apartment building Jasmine was staying in visiting was woefully decrepit: there were no fire alarms, no ladders, no fire escapes. The flames spread unchecked up a flammable wooden staircase. Five died, including Jasmine and Louise, and 57 more were injured. The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, said in a statement that the building was not found to be lacking in safety standards.
Though no one can take away the pain and shock of this untimely death, perhaps we can help ensure that something like this doesn’t happens again.
You can write a letter to Delanoe to demand better fire safety regulations for low-income housing by clicking here, or one to the mayor of the 20th arrondissement (where Jasmine lived), Frederique Calandra, by clicking here.
View the letter writing campaign, started by Jasmine’s close friend and classmate Megan Clement, here.
At Jasmine’s memorial this Saturday, instead of flowers, her family will be accepting donations to set up a nonprofit organization to purchase fire escape ladders for low-income housing.
My love to Jasmine’s family in Florida and to all her other, many, beloved friends. Her death is a loss for all of us.