mardi 8 mars 2011
C'est la France!
Just arrived at Gare du Nord from St Pancras International and you already can see their faces. And English couple with a huge staircase is looking around, obviously lost. Their eyes are widening, they just don’t get it. The man is typically brit and white, the woman is from beautiful Indian origins. They’re stepping in a métro that is full capacity, heading south on Ligne 4 and they can’t make it of the dirt.
You usually see this in a more cruel way when American land in Roissy and they have to take the RER into town. Maybe they fucked up with their destination, this can’t be Paris. The woman manages to sit on a strapontin in a corner, surrounded by pressing bodies, her nose against men’s crotches. At that point, she’s kinda giggling with her boyfriend, trying to laugh at the mayhem that she suspects to be usual. The difference between St Pancras’ cathedral space and beauty is staggering, it’s like they arrived in some third world country without a warning. I smile gently at her, silently trying to show her that I understand her emotional shock, it works on me everytime too.
Looking around, I can see right away that we’re surrounded by beautiful men, challenging my stupid notion that English people are sexier, more up to it, more out there. Here they are, the beautiful black men of my dreams, tall and proud, the young Arab gods with their head shaved and fab streetwear, the laidback bearded students. But their faces are shut down, their minds in far away places, trying to get home after work without falling into some hole of deep depression. The Ligne 4 is still dirty, like nobody has wiped the windows and steel walls for months, if not years. In the stations we pass by, the posters are all about some France that is long gone, Johnny Halliday again at the Stade de France, some naff new musical about Mike Brandt (now THAT was necessary), some concert with Charles Aznavour who is not dead yet I suppose. Sixties pop stars for the 21st Century nightmare. It’s a métro for the ederly, an underground system that doesn’t renew itself because the gay mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë (somebody who was supposed to embody modern times) can’t move a finger to help millions of people who commute in this great capital, the most popular touritic destination in the world. But he keeps on doing nothing and pretends this is not his job, it’s the RATP stupid.
C’est la France.
By the time we reach Chatelet on our way to Montparnasse, the English couple nearby is like all the people around them. Their faces have shut down too. It was supposed to be a climax, a special moment discovering the town of their dreams, the city for which they saved their money for a love trip. Their faces have shut down because they are adults and they know that they have to deal wih it for the moment being, holding hands like when you travel in a rough place and you cling to each other to make it through. More people go in and out, we are now on the Left Bank and it’s not so bad anymore but it’s too late: The Paris effect is full on. They’ll always remember their first encounter with a town that is stuck in bad management, poor architectural insight, catastrophic planning. What used to be the old poetic shabby Richard Avedon Paris is now just a big town with a bad métro, appaling ads on the walls with out of touch typos, visual design for morons, sensory pollution, bad industrial smells and no ventilation whatsoever. The London Tube might be much deeper into the ground but this métro is obviously closer to hell. No escalators, nothing at all for the handicaped, people pushing and shoving in corridors with no rules about who should be stepping on the right or left side, a drama that goes on every single day with nobody saying anything about it. This is the French like they are mocked around the world.
Chances are, the English couple is only crossing town to get on another train at Montparnasse. I get off there too, on my way home to Normandy, and I left my boyfriend at Gare du Nord, unable to face the comedown in Paris after 5 great days in London. I already decided to write this rudimentary post in Franglish on my blog, words are coming to my mind as I step off the Métro and I see the English couple on the side of the platform, letting the crowd pass by. When it comes to that godawful long runway, both running escalators are broken. I’m not lying, this was yesterday evening, you can check. On both sides, it’s a standstill. Maybe it still doesn't work as we speak. This tunnel has cost already millions to get fixed and it still doesn’t work and nobody is saying anything. Millions of people use it every month, cringing their teeth as they are running late to take a train or they just got off a train from a far away town. Everytime, they are on the brink of some Network moment, I am mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore but nothing comes out of their mouths. Like sheep, they mumble some despair and anger but hey, don’t forget Bertrand Delanoë is a socialist mayor, there’s nothing he can do about it, it’s the RATP’s fault you see.
I have long left the English couple with their big red suitcase, I don’t want to see their faces as they have to endure that long runway too, I’m on a survival mode here, earplugs in my ears to shut myself from the noise, carrying on my luggage, desperate to get on any train to get out this city that is no longer mine. See, I’ve been waiting 20 years for this runway to work, we are in 2011 and it’s still a mess. And today, all the French media are all about Marine Le Pen doing 23% in the next presidential elections polls. Oh what a surprise. We didn’t see it coming ! How did we come to this ?
Well, ask the millions who take the métro and RER B every day, honey. It's not all Sarkozy's fault. Ask them what they think of the stinking corridors of Réaumur Sébastopol, a place so dirty you get the feeling the stingy smell is coming from inside the walls. Ask them about the Montparnasse runway. Ask them about riot police in train stations when France hasn’t had a terrorist attack in years and ask them about this police state that is OK with a gay socialist mayor who doesn’t see any problem with it. It’s so much fun facing a machine gun when you wake up in the morning ! Ask them about a socialist mayor that doesn’t do ziltch about Paris when London has the Tate Modern. Ask them about the pain of everyday life when millions of Londoners party in the streets of many up & coming districts like Shoreditch when nothing existed there just a mere decade ago. But I suppose I’m doing my Nick Alexander ranting there.
It’s dead in Paris, utterly dead, each day is 24 hours backwards into more dirt, more old métro lines, more seedy corridors, more fuck all attitude. I just crossed by fingers, hoping that the English couple didn’t stay in Paris after all and took a train south to San Sebastian (I pick this town at the top of my head) when 10 years ago, its new métro system was so new and clever that everytime a new train is coming into the station, the lights all go go down and up again, in such a sweet and beautiful manner, just to help the deaf people, to let them know that safety first, somebody up there has been thinking about them to warn them a train that they can’t hear is coming in this new spacious and modern glass and concrete place. And the Spanish are smiling of course. They actually sing in the métro.
Wait until 2030 to see that – maybe- in Paris.