The metro trains remind me of caterpillars. Or snakes. Giant mechanical snakes that swallow people through the sides and then spit them out. There is a man on my train. I think he’s begging for money. So he can eat, he says. This is what people are reduced to. Begging strangers for loose change. Perhaps one in ten, or even one in twenty will give them what they need, or rather, a fraction of it. A person needs to eat. A person needs shelter from the elements. A person needs clean clothes (if the weather doesn’t permit nudity). Without these basic things, one cannot have a life, only a desperate existence.
Once again in the metro station, I am waiting for my train. There is a man. His clothes are dirty. His hair and beard are shaggy. He is holding a lit cigarette. He is talking. To whom? I wonder. He is not looking at anyone in particular. Another man about 5 feet away looks at the man and then says to his friend, “Il est fou”. He is mad. Perhaps. But he didn’t choose to be mad. In any case, all I can think is that this man had a mother at some point, if he still doesn’t have one. Maybe some other family and even friends. There must have been at least one person in his life who loved him, cared for him and hoped for great things for and from him. And not to end up homeless, dirty, poor and talking to himself.
I am sitting in a class that I can’t take seriously. It is a class that is supposed to familiarize us with the ins and outs of living in Paris. They’re talking about the architecture, the landmarks, the museums, the art, the great wine. No one talks about the dog shit on the road (I have had to play hopscotch to avoid getting doo-doo on my shoes on occasion), the air thick with tobacco smoke and the stench of human waste in the metro stations. Do people not have eyes and/or noses? Or maybe I’m simply overly sensitive to these things. Who knows, really. But there is another problem, one that follows me around, biting me like sand-flies. It is the problem of all the homeless people. And this time around I know that I am not being overly-sensitive. These are people. They’re not an ugly piece of furniture or an old, beat-up car that you can ignore just because they’re not nice to look at. They’re people. And we all walk past them and leave them to slowly, painfully waste away.
There was a group of classical string players performing in the metro station. It was sublime. I would not have assumed that a place that smells like a cesspit would have such good acoustics.
It is strange how a place can be at once noisy and quiet. I am in a metro car. No one is speaking. There is no music. Just the rumble of the train as it chugs along its tracks. There is a pattern: when the doors open, the sound is something like a cross between a hydraulic press, a deflating balloon and rolling a heavy suitcase. Then the alarm sounds – I am reminded of a dying pipe organ. Then the train moves again and all its parts wiggle and jiggle and rumble. I think perhaps some of the screws in the body of the metro car are not as tight as they ought to be and that’s what causes all the jiggling. What’s more, there is the sound of air rushing past very quickly. This is perhaps my favourite of the aforementioned sounds.
I thought it would be a good idea to go ice skating today. I didn’t expect the imminent danger to my backside. I landed on my butt four times – the last one was spectacular. Let’s hope there are no bruises tomorrow…
Trying to write on a Parisian metro train is a tricky business. It is only now that I realize just how jiggly and bumpy the ride is. Yet, it could be worse. The train could be packed. I always wonder where everyone who’s not me is going.