I’d like to address a serious misconception about Paris. Specifically, I’d like to talk about people who associate the words “sophisticated” and “elegant” with Paris. I’d like to concede that in a small, tiny, geographic cluster, there is a certain density of Christian Louboutin heels and Chanel No. 5 fumes and small dogs in Louis Vuitton carrying cases. And then I’d like to put forth the hypothesis that the elegance factor drops exponentially with every concentric circle with a ten food radius expanding out from this misleadingly refined epicenter of Paris. And I’d like to suggest that by the time this hypothetical perimeter has passed the Place Vendôme, descended into the metro, or reached, say, my neighborhood, it has passed some boundary and warped into an alternate Parisian universe that is actually the opposite of what people think Paris is like. A while ago there were a bunch of articles published about something they were calling “Paris Syndrome,” which was happening to tourists who arrived in Paris only to develop such an acute case of cognitive dissonance due to the total dissimilarity between their expectations of what Paris was like and what Paris is actually like that they had panic attacks, were hospitalized, had to leave the country immediately in a state of severe distress. The only cure for Paris syndrome? Leave Paris. Contact your cable provider and have all commercials for Mademoiselle by Dior blocked. Never go back to Paris again.
In the spirit of grinning and bearing it, here’s a list of things that have happened to me on my way to or from work in the past several weeks:
1. The scene: a crowded metro, jostling elbows, your face too close to my face. The culprit? A sixty year old man. His crime? Watching porn on his Android, thankfully with headphones in, unfortunately, with the screen in my face.
2. A fascist brawl on the metro. There was spitting.
3. Another brawl with an old, fascist French man. This time there was punching, and a hysterical adolescent boy trying to do the right thing and restrain them, until he, too, was punched in the face.
4. The time: 7:45 am. The setting: the not-so-sanitary RER A. The culprit: a 60 year old woman. The crime: eating an entire bag of hot dog buns in fifteen minutes.
5. Woman on the bus, wearing only underwear and a cowboy hat.
6. Woman at the bus stop, ferret on a leash.
7. Vomit. A lot of vomit.
8. Poop. A surprising quantity of poop.
9. An elderly gentleman testing every single ringtone on his cell phone, before landing on Moonlight Sonata.
10. A man on the bus refusing to answer his cell phone because “it’s my wife.” Also refused to silence, and had selected a Celine Dion tune (an entire 1:30 of it) as the ringtone for his wife. She called approximately 8 times.
11. A man on the metro, carefully combing his beard.
12. A woman on the RER, discreetly tweezing hairs off her chin.
13. An incredibly obese individual (French Women Don’t Get Fat was a marketing ploy) on the bus eating not one but two entire cakes between Pigalle and Barbès.
There are always body odors. There is always a wealth of other aromas, such as alcohol, and kebab, for example. There are always crowds, and as a general rule people are incapable of A. keeping to their right, and B. letting people off of the train before throwing their entire body weight into a mass of people shoving their way on. The trains are always stopped, or late, or cancelled, or inexplicably delayed just long enough to make me miss the next train. There are often McDonald’s French fries everywhere. There is an absurd number of strollers blocking aisles and people who pretend to be sleeping in the fold-down seats and who remain seated when the train is clearly too overcrowded for that nonsense.You are always dirty, always sweating, always trying not to be trampled, run over, or trapped in a mass of irritated people.You are always trying just to get to where you’re going without snapping and starting a spitting brawl or eating an entire bag of hot dog buns for solace.
And yet every once in a while, you’ll see a woman prance down the stairs of the metro in her four-inch heels, with her Chloë shopping bag swinging behind her, her lipstick perfect, her hair not flattened to her head with other peoples’ sweat, the sweet perfume of Chanel No. 5 trailing behind her in lieu of the more standard eau-de-métro-funk, and you’ll think, “What city does she live in?”