Saturday, April 16, 2005

First Day in Paris

First day in Paris; first experience with the metro. Fresh off the flight from JFK, I was determined to blend in. This, however, proved difficult:

1) I was not aware that you actually need to lift up the handle on the doors to open them. The train pulls in, I wait patiently for doors to open, doors remain shut, irritated Parisians brush past to open said doors. Strike one.

2) I was carrying a suitcase and a cello.

3) I smelled like airplane.

My crowning achievement came, however, when climbing the stairs at Concorde. Somewhere near the top of a seemingly endless staircase of death, every muscle in my dehydrated and jet-lagged body straining to remain vertical, the handle on my suitcase snapped off. It teetered for a brief moment, then capsized and clattered all the way down to the bottom, sending hapless passengers scurrying for cover. Bonjour, Paris.

Friday, April 15, 2005

My Missing Arm Beats Your Missing Foot

A small sticker above each section of four seats reminds passengers that they are to relinquish their seat if any passenger really needs that seat.

This is common sense. If an old woman totters onto the train, five people jump out of their seats, in a spontaneous and collective effort to get the woman seated before the train starts moving again, she loses her balance, she breaks her hip, and no one gets to work on time.

The Paris metro, though, is prepared for a number of situations. The list not only details the types of people who require seats, but the order in which those people have priority to those seats, if they should all find themselves aboard the same car during rush hour.

Translated from the RATP online guide to being a good passenger, the sign reads:

In the cars, certain seats are reserved by priority and chronologically to:
- Disabled war veterans
- Blind persons
- Disabled, from work or other reason
- Pregnant women or people accompanied by small children
- Old and/or incompetent people.

So according to the RATP, it's not how diabled you are, but how you were disabled. A man who lost his left foot in World War II has the right to kick a blind man out of his seat. Likewise, the Blind Man gets a seat before the guy who lost all four limbs in a tragic factory incident. A man who accidently cut off his own thumb while chopping up a carrot takes a seat before the big-bellied woman or the woman with a baby on each hip and two on her back. And all of these people get to keep their seats if an old and/or incompetent person climbs on board.

You have to give the RATP credit. They've thought this thing through and are ready for throngs of various incompetent/disabled/blind/pregnant/old people to ride the metro. But they neglect to address the possibility that a person might have two or more of the above handicaps. Does the war veteran still get priority over a blind and pregnant woman?

In any case, I'm a little upset to see that one of the few benefits of growing old--that is, automatic seating--is being down-played by the RATP. I've always looked forward to kicking those young hooligans out of their cooshy seats. I guess I'll just have to stay away from cars packed with higher-priority passengers. The RATP has really helped me on this one, seeing as how only about a third of the stations are handicap-accessible. But hey, at least they try to make up for it--the people on the priority list do get a nice fifty-percent discount.

Metro Catch

Today’s metro expedition yielded:

Mullets: 1
Suspiciously-shaped packages: 3
“Social Movements” (read - strikes): 0
“Serious voyager accidents” (read – traffic blocked because of a metro suicide): 1
Puddles of urine: 5
Incrusted pigeon shit on above-ground line platforms: 7 (watch those new shoes)
Birds trapped underground: 2
JYA: 0 (it was a good day)
Run-by accordion recitals: 1
German tourists: 2
American tourists: 0 (no “perdone” today…)
Rats: 0 (obviously not looking hard enough)
Dramatic scarves: 14
19th century classic French novels: 2 (Zola and Balzac)
Beggars: 3
Inexplicable scowls from across the platform: 3
Inexplicable smells: 8
Leopard-print clothing items: 4
Exposed cellulite: 0 (see JYA)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Where the Metro Lunches

Parisians never eat on the metro. This is a proven fact. I challenge anyone to furnish photographic proof to the contrary (Emily, get to it). When I first moved here I would occasionally wolf down a sandwich jambon fromage between my cello lesson at the Ecole Normale and my art history class in the 14th. But it felt wrong in an odd sort of way. It was like when you’re in an elevator continuing the boisterous conversation you started in the hallway – there’s a pause and suddenly you realize you’ve been behaving like a barbarian. So I stopped eating in the metro.

Sometimes, however, forces beyond your control are conspiring against you.

I spent a brief moment of my life at the bottom of the communications food chain working for a telephone survey company in the southern suburbs of Paris. Needless to say it was a wretched, soul-destroying job, perilously close to telemarketing. It was in Malakoff, at the end of the Thirteen. At lunch hour on my first day on the job (also my second-to last) I was surprised to see everyone leave the office and trek across the road, through a construction site, under an overpass, through a cast-iron gate to a pre-fab block in the middle of a rail yard. The company lunchroom was shared with that of the RATP maintenance workers.

It was early summer. I picked my way across the tracks, gazing at the dark, empty cars stretched out in the sun, the weeds that sprung up here and there, the piles of rail ties and the rows and rows of tracks stretching into the distance off to Paris. Amidst the hulking metal stood the cafeteria building.

I no longer took my lunch underground to the metro. The metro had come up above ground to join me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Crazy Person #482

Line Thirteen, southbound toward Chatillon.

Sex: Male
Age: Approx. 47 years old

Passengers board the train, including Crazy Person #482. As soon as the buzzer sounds and the doors lock closed, the man hits panic. He rocks back and forth on the seat across from me, and then, in between stations, jumps to the door. Frantically and repeatedly, he jams his thumb into the door's button, cursing when it doesn't open.

This behavior continues until the next stop, when the door finally slides open. He cries, "Sweet Jesus!" and exits the train.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Speech #786


"Do you know my name?"
(dramatic pause)
"Do you know my name?"
(less dramatic pause)
"Yes, well neither do I. And who cares, anyway? I do know this: I am fifty-three years old. I ride the metro, and all I ask for is..."
(the train's rattling drowns him out momentarily)
"A little change. A little change could do me some good, and would give me great pleasure. As you know: the street is not pleasure, but money, well, it is. Extend your hands; help me out."

Number of charitable passengers: 4