Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Metro Mashups

Stripey H+M sweaters for 24 euros. Cell phone plans with unlimited calls to (insert country) with (insert endless list of one-time fees and conditions). Smiling “non-Europeans” wiring their earnings home to a niece in Bangalore via Western Union. The Paris metro billboards are gargantuan. There is no escape. Even when you don’t want to look, they seem to practically fall on you – like the advertisement last spring for the Ingres show at the Louvre: a supersized reproduction of one of his odalisques sprawled on the platform of the 4 at Etienne Marcel, her fleshy hips and coy smile forcing even this narrator (gayer than Christmas, can’t you tell?) to admire the shapely buttocks on this pre-Olympia whore.

But I digress.

The images get insidiously stamped in my brain. It’s very effective advertising. Except that sometimes I get them a bit mixed up – I suffer from spontaneous metro billboard mashups. I see one ad and think of another. A recent billboard series, for example, pitched the irresistible charm of the “Salon des Animaux” (Pet Show), proudly proclaiming its “hundreds of baby animals!”, with photos of baby ducks, puppies, and every other cute animal you can imagine. The week earlier, I had been struck by an ad for a different kind of spectacle: a stadium performance of “Aida”, accompanied by some kind of pyrotechnics/fireworks spectacular. “AIDA, monumental opera on fire!”

Hundreds of baby Aidas? Monumental baby animals on fire? Pyrotechnics and puppies? Kittens (Nubian princesses?) brought to the pharaoh as war booty? The possibilities are endless…

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Unleashed on the Eleven

A guest post by dear Chris.

I needed a work permit. Unless you have dealt with French administration, you cannot imagine the dread with which I woke up on Monday morning to begin an ultimately futile two-hour metro extravaganza. This began, appropriately, in a long line at the ticket window in the Belleville station near my apartment.

When I finally got to the front of the line, a frantic and squat middle-aged woman in a shawl debarked, fluttering her arms. Her peroxided hair was unforgivingly wrenched into a ratty. She leapt in front of me, applied her mouth to the hole in the bulletproof glass and began jabbering. Apparently her dog had escaped and run into the station without her. In Paris it is common for people to walk their dogs without leashes, and yet miraculously, this kind of thing seems to happen very rarely.

"Sir, sir, did you see a dog pass through here? I think he went through the turnstiles! What should I do? What should I do?" Since the cashier was ignoring her, I played along, slipped him my bill and asked for a book of tickets. I heard him finally respond to her as I was walking away. "Listen Madame, I don't know anything about a dog. Can't you see I have a line here?" he spat impatiently.

When I got down to the end of the platform for the République-bound 11 line, a very cute sheltie or maybe a miniature collie was introducing itself to my fellow travelers. It tranquilly worked the crowd, wagging its tail, looking knowingly into the passenger's eyes and, I kid you not, gently proffering its paw to "shake." A few
Chinese high school students ignored it, and the dog finally settled down in front of a fat and accomodating man with a bottle. (7:45 AM) By the time the train was pulling into the station the two seemed to be getting along swimmingly. As I was boarding, I saw the dog's owner rushing down the platform with a look of relief in her eyes. "Toby! Toby! Heel, my baby Toby!" she cried out to it. The dog obeyed, even from a great distance.

How comforting, I thought. A heart-warming reunion on this dreary Parisian Monday morning.

I watched through the window as the train pulled out the station. The woman, finally reunited with her darling Toby, began furiously whipping him with what looked to be a piece of knotted rope.


Rush hour, Line 12.

It had been a long day, I had a ways to ride, and it was rush hour.

These three facts combined meant my competitive pulse was raging by the time the metro pulled into the station. I wanted a seat, bad. But when the train pulled into the station, my two competitors turned out to be two elderly Chinese tourists. Disappointed, I realized I couldn’t fight them.

Okay, so that’s a lie. I was definitely going to fight them. Rules are rules, and I didn’t think these guys were over 75.

But when the doors opened, the two of them bumped me out of the way and were seated before I could even spot the empty seats. The whole thing played out like musical chairs – there was just one person left standing in the car, and that person was me. And that person was sad.

After a few stops, though, a noticed a vacant seat. The vulture standing next to it apparently didn’t want it, so I rushed over and sank down into the spot.

Just a few seconds later, I realized why the woman didn’t want the seat. No sooner than I sat, the eleven year old next to me moved uncomfortably and groaned.

A giant fart sound escaped the seat. I was upset, but I didn’t want to stand.

His classmate started laughing, and the boy complained, “Stop laughing! My stomach really hurts. Aie!”

As he let out that last cry, he jumped again. Again, a loud fart.

I waited for the smell, but it never came. I figured the wind from the tunnel was sucking the smell out the window. So I kept my seat.

“Stop laughing, Thomas, my stomach really hurts, it’s not funny.”


But wait.

The third sound, even as I tried not to notice, sounded strangely similar to the first two. The woman across from me and I exchanged a small smile.

“Are you studying music in school?” I asked them.

“Yes, those are such charming melodies,” she said.

The boys looked uncomfortable. And then they produced the Fart Machine.

“We have tricked you! It is again the great Fart Machine! We are the kings of the Fart Machine on the metro!”

The Fart Machine punctuated the proclamation with another mighty noise. The passengers in the car smiled very small Parisian smiles.

Until the announcement came:

“Hello, passengers, I have to things to tell you, so let’s hope I can remember them both. First and foremost, the next station, that is, the station Abbesses, is closed for renovation. So if you were hoping to descend there, well… you have no luck. Secondly, appearing on my list of things to tell you, on which there are two items, is that the elevators at Lamarck-Caulaincourt are broken.”

The elevators at Lamarck-Caulincourt are broken. The smiles vanished from the passengers’ faces as they remembered the sign at the bottom of the stairs: Warning! There are 112 steps.


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Trafic perturbé

Okay, some of you may be wondering if Emily and I have been run over by a train or something... Emily is preparing her re-entry to the United States - hopefully she won't explode in her final descent like the space shuttle - and I just moved into a new apartment and have therefore spent all my time unpacking boxes and sniffing paint fumes. So there. We'll try to get back on the ball ASAP. Until then, know that the 4 still smells like the zoo, that there are suspicious packages on a daily basis on the 1, and that I got sexually harassed by a woman (!) on the 4. Full story at 11. Okay bye.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Announcing General Strike

It's too hot. I've given up. My trip on the RER B last week was like receiving mouth-to-mouth from the entire car. For forty-five minutes. Only two windows that would open. After twenty minutes, I felt sweat dripping down my leg, and realized that it wasn't my sweat.

I've started walking. Everywhere.

In sum, I have no choice but to go on strike. More stories once this city's ready to put a couple layers of clothing between us.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fake Celebrity #46

Line 2, direction Nation, 7 PM

Elizabeth was wearing five strands of pearls (I counted), not including the wristbands. One came all the way down to her waist, another had pearls the size of ping pong balls. Her entourage was small, no press people or assistants. It consisted only of two dogs: one elephant-sized German Shepard sprawled unhappily across the metro car floor and a scraggly little terrier. Elizabeth was clad entirely in white, a good choice given the crushing heat, but not a good choice given that it made her look like a beluga whale. She had evidently styled her hair to resemble the terrier, who sat quietly drooling onto her lap. Her face was masked with black, rhinestone-studded sunglasses. The lenses were the size of dinner plates.

The dogs, in contrast, had evidently gone for a less dramatic, more rustic look. The German Shepard had selected a simple red bandana slung around his neck; the terrier was somewhat more daring, with a ruffled, multicolored cloth neckpiece, very gypsy horsemen number at Barnum and Bailey’s.

The trio seemed quite content and carried on an animated conversation, oblivious to the heat and crowds. Nobody asked Elizabeth for autographs. I couldn’t help but wondering, however, why she was taking such a long metro ride with her canine friends. She rode from Victor Hugo to Barbès, a good twenty minutes. I mean, Elizabeth Taylor, don’t you have a chauffeur?

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Glancing Game


The Glancing Game (tm) is a popular game enjoyed on the Paris metro involving two or more players. Though the game's origins are somtimes disputed by scholars in the field, most believe that the game began spontaneously one fateful Sunday afternoon when Sir Bimsley Coggleworth grew smitten with a fellow passenger, one Madamoiselle Antoinette Du Fonnetenay. The Glancing Game's (tm) popularity spread thoughout the Paris metro with the expansion of the underground tunnels, enlisting not only famous players from the French bourgeoisie, but those from the lower classes as well. In fact, the game transcends cultural, ethnic, religious and social lines, though rarely reaches across sexual lines, since the game requires Glances which are both reciprocal and sexual in nature. Since it involves no dice, cards, or other game pieces, the game can be played by anyone, at any time of the day.

Official Rules and Regulations

1. Players One and Two must sit facing each other on the car, though thier positions are not limited to a particular section of seats. Thus, the players may sit as close as six inches and as far as ten meters from each other.

2. Players One and Two must be able to see each other. If another passenger sits in between the two players and thus blocks the players sight of each other, the game is over.

3. The game begins when Player One notices the apparent attractiveness of Player Two. Player One then fixes his or her look on Player Two, and awaits acknowledgement of the commencement of the game.

4. When Player Two recognizes Player One's stare, this recognition must be small. Player Two returns the stare, but for no more than a few seconds.

5. Player One notes Player Two's acknowledgement by pretending that Player One's initial look was accidental. This is easily accomplished by averting the glance elsewhere. Examples include but are not limited to: out the window, behind Player Two, the person next to Player Two, the prominently displayed Metro maps, etc.

6. Player Two must then proceed by fixing his or her look on Player One.

7. Player One then shifts his or her glance to Player Two. The game has officially begun.

8. Glances are exchanged, then, back and forth, repeatedly, by Players One and Two throughout the course of the journey. The players can increase the time of Locked Eyes to their liking, but cannot make any other outward signs of recognition, including but not limited to: smiling, winking, waving or licking lips/teeth.

9. Both players must realize, prior to gameplay, that any of the aforementioned signs of recognition are considered taboo in most social circles. Any breach of the game rules leads to immediate dismissal by the other player, who will most likely exit the train or change seats.

10. As the egos of the players enjoy quite a stroking during gameplay, they should feel free to enhance their performance and the other's fantasy by bringing any available accessories into gameplay, including, but not limited to the following: a hip or trashy magazine, an intellectual or pulp fiction book, a newspaper, a hidden hat or gloves.

11. The game ends when a player reaches his or her destination and exits the car. If both exit at the same stop, the game can possibly be continued on the quai or on the escalator. Players are permitted to speak to each other once they have exited the station, thus finding themselves in a reasonable arena to hit on each other. Any prior contact will most likely lead to a game of Cold Shouler (tm) or Total Rejection! (tm).

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mother of the Metro

Line 12, Northbound towards Porte de la Chapelle, 11:15am.

Roving, dirty, dog-walking young anarchists frequent the metro in search of money. Today, two of them waited with me on the quai of the Twelve. They shared a beer and stank of alcohol, laughing loudly as they provoked the dog to snarl and pull at their sweater sleeves.

Once on the car, one of them gripped the pole while the other straddled one of the strapontins. The dog lay at their feet. An elderly woman boarded the train and chose a seat across from them.

About ninety seconds into the ride, the pole-gripping one's odor reached me from six seats away. I noticed the old woman covering her nose.

She smiled and waved at the odor, and then spoke to the standing anarchist.

"Doesn't the smell bother you?"
"No, I'm used to it."
"Well, I'm not used to it. You smell horrible! It's filling up the car!"

I expected him to get closer and stick his armpit in her face. Instead, he laughed, and said, "Well, I'm sorry, I guess I never considered it."

Two minutes later, he farted and immediately apologized to the woman. She laughed, waved at the smell and looked to other passengers for support.

Between stops, he approached the door and pulled up on the handle repeatedly, producing loud clicking sounds. The woman reached forward and gave him a little slap on the hand.

"Stop that noise!"
"But I'm making music."
"That's not music, it's disturbing. Just sit down and stop fidgeting. And give me that beer."

He handed her the beer and sat down across from her. When he got up to leave, he said, "Have a good day," to the woman before exiting the car. She shook her head, opened a window and placed the beer under her seat.