Monday, June 28, 2010

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 3

The Sound of Metro

With less than a week left of my existence as an inhabitant of the city of lights, it is quite tempting to write a somber, reflective piece, but instead I have decided to continue to describe – in perhaps too much detail – that fateful day I spent on the metro. As I waited to begin my journey I heard cheers as reggae music began to play above me (you will recall that the Bastille station for the one line is open air but below street level). I couldn’t see what was going on, but the music nearly drew me away from my mission like what I imagined to be a dreadlocked pied French piper. Shortly after I boarded the train I heard a startling, yet somewhat soothing woman’s voice. She sounded remarkably similar to my father’s GPS device, only with a French accent. She was in charge of reading all of the stops as the train stopped at them, kind of a boring job, if you ask me…then again, I remain unemployed so GPS/Metro reader lady is a couple steps ahead of me. She actually worked on several different metro lines and even in some stations – reminding me to “mind the gap” at the stop “Arts et Metiers” as passengers disembarked the 3 line. Perhaps she is in charge of the metro…I’ll have to look into this at a later date.

46 minutes after I began my journey I was treated to the most pleasant sound of all: Silence. I had a train all to myself on the 3bis for two entire stops. As I waited to board the four line I heard someone speaking gibberish at me and looked up to see a very confused young man. Upon quick reflection I recognized this gibberish as French and began to instinctively reply “je ne parle pas le francais, je suis desole” but then a little voice in my head shouted: “you’ve been here for nine months, damn it, give it a shot.” Once again, I gave in to the voices. The confused gentleman was asking which direction the train was going (little did he know he was consulting an expert!), I told him which direction the train was headed, he replied “merci,” and we went our merry ways. Good for me. Shortly thereafter I heard a strange voice over the loudspeakers of line 5 – it was not the gentle GPS/Metro lady I had come to know and love, but a gruff French man who mumbled and spoke too fast. Then the train stopped. I can only assume the voice and stoppage were related but have no idea how. Three minutes later he spoke again and many on the train left. I did what I do in most situations – convince myself that I know what I am doing and ignorantly sit there. A few minutes later the train started moving again. I win.

Two lines later, on the seven line, I was privy to the greatest sound I had heard yet – an overweight Frenchman with a fanny pack full of amplifiers attached to his microphone and his guitar singing “Hit the Road, Jacques.” Good for him. At 2:07 another grouchy French person’s voice came over the loudspeakers, except this time on the 9 line…the train stopped AND the lights went out. 5 minutes later the French person spoke again and literally every passenger except for me got off the train. There was a group of very confused Spanish-speaking folks who looked downright petrified. I, of course, kept my cool. Two minutes later the lights went on, the “get all body parts away from the doors” buzzer buzzed and the Spanish speakers and I were off. Then, again, at 2:46 on the 10 line I heard a third French person’s voice say something as the train screeched to a halt and the lights went off. Nobody moved or spoke for 3 entire minutes. The lights went on, the train moved to the next stop and a rather loud gentleman beside me leapt from the train, thrust his arms into the air and proclaimed “Boys and Girls: It’s SHOWTIME!” I believe he even did spirit fingers. I giggled heartily.

On the thirteen line, I heard shouting…which was odd, considering there was nearly nobody on the train. I saw a woman and a man in a physical altercation over a seat…I repeat on a nearly empty train. It must have been quite a comfy seat. At each stop on the last two lines the GPS/Metro lady sang her sweet song announcing the stops creating a wonderful symmetry to my journey. I had heard many things – some soothing, others annoying, and still others startling but the metro trip was certainly an auditory treat…olfactorily speaking, however, this trip was no walk in a sweet-smelling park. Stay tuned for the final installment: The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 4: The Metro is Like a Box of Chocolates, except it smells like pee.

As always ,thanks for reading.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 2

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Metro de Paris

“Is that a buttocks on the horizon?” I pondered, making my way through la station Remur Sebastol shortly after noon. Upon further inspection, it was, indeed, a man’s buttocks. This man had lowered his pantalon to his knees, was lifting his shirt up to his shoulders and doing his part to make sure that this station’s pee gutters were being utilized to their fullest capacity. The walls of most metros are lined with these small trenches that are likely intended to rid the station of excess rain water or cleaning solvents on the rare occasion that the metro is hosed down. They are more often utilized in the manner described above. They are also sometimes used for the purposes of regurgitation as was the case about an hour later in la station Place D’italie. Fortunately this concludes the bodily excretions segment of the sights mine eyes have seen during that fateful day on the metro.

The day began about an hour before my encounter with pee man as I was gazing out the window of the Bastille station thinking “I am an idiot.” At this point, I noticed a gentleman standing next to me. “Regardes les bateaus!” He mumbled, proudly displaying both of his teeth as he smiled and gestured towards the row of boats with his tall can of high ABV cheap beer. I smiled, nodded my head, and we parted ways. The train pulled up and I wedged myself in the back of the car – an area which the teenage couple beside me seemed to have mistaken for a bedroom. And I thought the hip-hop dancers dancing over my head at Bastille would be the most entertaining teenagers I would see that day.

Not to be outdone (so-to-speak) by the passengers of Line 1, Line 2 had its own assortment of crazies. The lady with bright orange hair who was donning a neon green jacket and bright pink leggings frantically darting from passenger to passenger in search of the time, for instance. Between each interrogation she would check her cellular telephone and watch…maybe she was quizzing everyone. As hard as she was to ignore, I noticed an approximately 30 year old man on the other end of the bus with long hair and a goatee who looked somewhat upset. Then came the tears. Two stops later as I exited the train the man had begun to bawl.

11:41 marked my first mullet sighting as the 3bis flew by the most disgusting station in Paris – Saint Fargeaux. Fortunately I have no idea what it smelled like, but I’m guessing something between rotting flesh and brimstone. Every inch of the wall was covered in mold in various shades of green, blue, yellow, and death. At the other end of the metro spectrum are Gambetta, Concorde, Cadet, and Gare de Lyon which resemble a discotheque, a giant crossword puzzle, a Georgia Fourth of July celebration, and a jungle respectively. Many metros are also bedazzled with various advertisements, one of which depicts a hybrid hippo-headed-goldfish in pursuit of a scuba penguin. It was my favorite.

Lines 5, 6, and 7 introduced me to the booger eater, a child mullet, and headlamp man. Headlamp man was joined on the seven by featherhats and fannypack speaker guy. More on fannypack speaker guy in the sounds section, but his singing was amplified by the speaker that he held in his bright turquoise fanny pack. On the 8 line I was given a glimpse into the future of the makeout couple from line 1 as I was seated across from a middle aged couple who had similarly mistaken the car for an appropriate place to grope one another. On the Nine, the train broke down, the lights went out, and 90% of the people got off when some announcement was made in French. I ignored it and waited ten minutes until the train started up again. I win.

Between the 10, 11, and 12 I spent a great deal of time in Chatelet walking. During this time, I saw several murals, three teenagers being escorted out of the metro by RATP police for throwing candy at people, and found out that I had the power to re-animate broken escalators simply by walking the wrong direction on them. If you’ve never been jolted backward and upward by the ground beneath your feet while descending a staircase, I don’t really recommend it. On the 13 and 14 I was in somewhat of a haze, though I did get to watch two adults fight for a seat on a sparsely populated train. So ended my adventure.

While French postcards often give the illusion that the sights of Paris are limited to its many monuments, the real Paris is found deep underground. Paris isn’t la tour Eiffel, les invalides, Notre Dame, or Sacre Cœur. The real sights of La Ville-Lumiere are mold, themed metro stations, overly-affectionate Parisians, drunks, and pee gutters.

Thanks for reading about the sights, and stay tuned for The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 3: The Sound of Metro.