Sunday, January 31, 2010

jeudi - what a mess!

All the good humor in my soul went straight into the gutter this morning when, one stop away from Etoile, the train stopped suddenly and indefinitely due to a technical "incident" ad passengers not making a connection were invited to get off the train and walk to their final destination. In retrospect, maybe I should have walked from Kleber to Suresnes and I could have gotten to work on time!
The worst part, was that Wednesday night, I took it upon myself to go to sleep earlier and make it to work early so I could leave early. Thursday morning, everything was in my favor - after a round of playing dress up, a pain au chocolat and a cafe con leche (super international breakfast) later, I was out the door in record time and with a mission: to make it to La Defense on time to give my boyfriend his work badge. Traffic was smooth, a glimmer of sunshine warmed my heart and I found a seat relatively early in the ride.
Seven minutes after disaster struck, I was finally at Etoile and made a run for the RER, which luckily for me (or so I thought) was pulling up to the quai. Shoving people out of my way and squirming through the madness, I managed to find a tiny spot at the foot of the train's stairs and was standing as patiently as I could waiting for the doors to close. The conductor announced a passenger "incident" at La Defense was holding the train back from leaving. Feeling like the extra sardine in a can or a T-shirt in one of my heavily packed suitcases, I made a run for Line 1, which was just as heavily perturbed.
Three trains passed by without any hope of my getting on and my boyfriend called to tell me not to worry about the badge. Thirty minutes, what felt like an eternity later, I was on the train to La Defense, and still nowhere near getting to work! Way past the morning rush, I had to wait ten minutes for the bus to come by and get me to work more than an hour late.
Mornings like these, you learn to hate the word "incident" and wonder if it's not a better idea to turn around and stay home! Luckily it was Thursday and not a very busy one at the office - with Friday and the weekend on the horizon, moods were easily lifted.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

petits plaisirs - mardi

I am eternally grateful for mornings when I wake up knowing exactly what I'm going to wear and being able to snooze three instead of two times. I splashed some color into my life again this morning and tied a red silk scarf around the collar of a powder blue chemise and felt like a spring flower all day.
My daydreams took me to thoughts of warm, lazy afternoons today, and all I could think about was spending an afternoon reading a book in Luxembourg gardens, laying barefoot and pink-pedicured in the grass letting the sun shine shine shine. (It will be months before this day is real)
Quickly bouncing back to reality, I spent a seemingly endless afternoon and evening working away. At the end of the day, I thought nothing was on my side. The bus stop in front of the office is closed again, this time thanks to construction on the street, I missed the bus at the next nearest stop and once I was at La Defense, a train came through the station and continued without stopping. Four minutes later, the train that finally took me to Etoile moved forward painfully slowly. I got on line 6 ready to close my eyes from the time we passed the Eiffel Tower to the time I got home, and found a very pleasant, very familiar face getting on the train at Bir Hakeim - my boyfriend and I were on the same train, going home at the same time. Although it really is the best way to finish a day of work, I won't lie - it was planned. He let a train pass before so we could be on the same one.

Monday, January 25, 2010

petits plaisirs - lundi

At 7 a.m. this morning, our clock radio burst into song. I don't usually remember what sounds come blaring out of the speakers, especially on Monday, but I do remember that this morning I was dancing in my dreams, so it must have been good. Already the first sign of a good morning.
By the time I finally got out of bed and dressed and realized I was super early, I had already danced (slid) across the apartment and was ready for breakfast.
Getting on the metro and completely oblivious to where the exits are at Etoile, I made a dash for the middle of the train only to find ... the scarecrow of a woman from last week's nightmare episode standing at the door, flashing her brown bucked teeth in her signature smile of pure evil. Terrified at such a sight so early in the morning but not being able to hold in the laughter, I scuttled to the front compartment and got away from her!
Kids on the metro are probably my favorite - especially when they're funny. Last Thursday, during the teacher strikes, a little boy of no more than ... six, got on the train with his grandfather and was squished beyond belief among the busy bodies on their way to work. The grandfather got on the train talking to the little boy, who was invisible from where I was standing. I heard things like "not too squished?" and "are you ok" and "we'll sit down soon" and thought to myself, 'great, another crazy person on the train." A few stops later, I realized there was a little boy with the old man, as he started talking to the people around him saying it was the boy's first time taking the metro in the morning and that he must probably feel like a canned sardine or a slice of toast in the middle of the loaf. For the boy, it was definitely an experience, for me, it was a fun way to start my day.
This morning, a toddler talking to her dad through her pacifier had most of the people around her entertained as she told her dad she would not take a nap on the metro. On their way off the train, she gently tapped everyone on her way on their foreheads with her tiny fingers and a smile on her face.
From now on every Monday should start with good songs on the clock radio and funny kids on the metro.... and Sun!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

metro diaries - week three

I have to wonder - do all feasible modes of transportation conspire against the workers of the world to drive them crazy before they get to where they're going? Not a single seat on the trains this morning and rain when I got to Suresnes. I've started taking the RER instead of Line 1 and it's a gamble. Will it be on time? Will the train go at a regular speed or will it go slower than a snail going up a hill?
Monday evening, I agreed to meet some friends from the States out for a drink and calculated 40 minutes to get from work to the bar. A twenty-minute bus ride later, I questioned whether or not I would be late. The RER, three stops on the A and two on the B, took just as long as it would have on a train with 100 stops. There was a point in the commute when I actually felt gravity.
Aside from the nightmare on the way, catching up with friends was a great way to start the week.
I know it's too early and too cold to be thinking of spring time but there's a little ray of sunshine outside the office window and I desperately would like to go out and enjoy it. A walk along the Seine? YES PLEASE!
In a daze, staring out the window, I saw a bird with lovely dark green and aquamarine crest land on a green light post that made his feathers look even more splendid in the sun. Seconds later, a female bird came and pecked at the handsome green bird and they flew off together. It may indeed be too early to think about spring, but thanks to those birds, I know I'm not the only one.
Passing ticket control on the metro was always something I wanted to happen to me. Apparently I didn't have enough of a delinquent look to get stopped very often while I lived here before. The stairs to exit the RER at La Defense are always difficult to traverse, but Thursday morning, when there was only one way out and the electric escalators were off, the climb was incredible. Upon reaching the exit, I suppose I understood - controllers were blocking the exits and swiping metro tickets. What fun I once found in getting controlled before suddenly disappeared.
Three weeks into my life as a working woman, I took my first day off to take care of some carte de sejour business. Although I didn't get much done as far as paperwork, I did get to spend a lot of time on me. While changing earrings and transferring the contents of my purse into another purse, I thought to myself, 'why didn't I do this before?' A deep blow dry, manicure and tea party (sables fourees, hibiscus-infused green tea and the first half of Marie Antoinette) later, I was on my merry way to shop the soldes (successfully this time), walk around my favorite neighborhoods and meet my boyfriend for a drink to start the weekend!

metro diaries - week two

The sky is absolutely dreadful on Monday morning. Why would Monday decide to greet the working world with such horrendous greyness? Transportation this morning was equally dreadful - Following my laziness, I took line 6 instead of my usual morning route of line 5. I was immediately overjoyed to see that my line 5 stop was actually closed due to an 'incident.' The trajectory to Etoile is long enough for me to think it's the end of my commute, but as the train pulls into the line's end, I realize I still have another train and a bus to take. At this point, a strong pain hits my heart as I've not only come to the realization that I'm only half way to work, but that it's only Monday.
Line 1 is full to capacity and gross in all it's glory. The train is also stuck at Etoile for seven minutes because of another 'incident' at Les Sablons. Everyone around me has a look of despair painted across their faces. They're tired, it's not even 9 am, it's Monday and they've been doing this for longer than I have.
A woman runs onto the train, silently feeling victorious for having caught it at the quai and oblivious to the fact she would be standing there for four minutes - she could have walked onto the train. Once she heard the conductor say the train would be idle for a few more minutes, a flustered sigh left her lips, she unwrapped the scarf around her neck and began unzipping her coat. Her zipper was broken and I think she could have cried. Instead, she began fidgeting in the confined space, nudging the people around her and making everyone want to murder her instead of feel sorry for her. I was far away enough not to be bothered by her anxiety attack, but the woman behind her who could not take it anymore, put her hand on her shoulder, swiveled her around and undid the woman's zipper in a single and swift tug. The incident ended with the savior politely asking the zippered woman to relax for the rest of the ride.
Although sometimes I wish I had been a more adventurous child, and I remember begging my parents to take the metro when we would spend summers in Madrid, I think I would have most likely hated or been terrified of public transportation as a child.
This morning on an unusually packed line 6 train, a terrifying woman with brown bucked teeth taunted a sleepy little boy all the way to Denfert. He had a beanie hat pulled over his eyes and the hood of his parka pulled down as far as it would go to block her and the rest of the metro out of sight. The boy was falling asleep and enjoying the last minutes of his morning as the woman poked him, made faces at him and laughed at how mean she was being. The worst part was that the boy's father, who had his hands busy with another sleepy child in his lap, could do nothing to save the poor boy, as the woman did not speak French. The poor kid stood up at Denfert, probably terrified and probably not as sad to have to go to school as he was escaping the horror that was that woman. The lady stayed sitting for a few more stops and the evil smile stayed smeared across her face for the rest of her commute.
An army of stiletto-clad women march off the bus at the Pompidou stop and make their way up Avenue Commandant Riviere determined to get to work. At the fork of Commandant Riviere and the street on which I work, the army splits in two and half go in one building, half in the other. It amuses me to hear the clack clack clack of high-powered high-heels in the morning as the day begins.
This morning, I'm exhausted. I hit the snooze button twice and didn't find a seat on the metro. A woman with a stinky fur collar mistook me for a resting object and jammed her body into my back until Denfert. At which point, the majority of the central part of the train got off, and I found to my surprise, an empty window seat. I took it and slept till Etoile.
I felt like a zombie making my way through the crowds at the station, but made a very wise last-minute decision to take the RER instead of Line 1. I was at La Defense faster than ever and at work on time, which I didn't at all expect to be.
The bus stop in front of the office is not in service this week because they're putting a glass enclosing around it. At around 6:45, my boss and I walked to the next stop and hopped on this first bus that came past. Little did we know, we were on the wrong bus. Nearly 45 minutes later, we realized our surroundings were not at all familiar and decided to make a run for it. Luckily, we weren't thrown super off-route. At Pont de Neuilly, we got off the bus, and parted ways. At Etoile, I walked towards the back to the train to not have to walk a lot at my exit and kind of blocked out everything and everyone by looking out the window. At Pasteur, walking by in a flash, was ... THE MAN IN THE RED SCARF. I felt a little jolt of joy run through my head and when he was out of sight, I turned back in my seat. The girl sitting in front of me was rummaging through her school bag and found a book. As soon as she cracked it open and the cover came into sight, I could have had a heart attack. The book - Nadja by Andre Breton - is the exact description of what I felt. It's the third time I see the man in the red scarf, and this time, it was because I took a wrong turn on the way home.
Tonight, on the way home, when passing the Eiffel Tower, I asked myself what I was doing getting home so late and I made a vow that I would actually start living instead of just working and going home at night. Although work is going well, I find myself slowly moving into a place I don't want to be - Boring. So from the first chance I get, I'll start living my evenings as a working Parisienne!

metro diaries - week one

All of January, I've been living and working in Paris. I've done this before, I tell myself I should be used to it. But, as with everything new, the introduction of the real world and daily commutes in a different language has been exhilarating and exhausting all at once.
I've been keeping a journal of my commuting experiences and here is what I've compiled so far (from now on, posts will be regular)

Week One:
Claustrophobia on the metro seems to be more and more common for me with each passing day. People jammed so closely together - breathing, talking, laughing, sneezing and twitching - for up to two hours each day is enough to drive anyone crazy or to a certain level of anger/hostility against the world.
I've found that sitting near the window helps significantly. When I'm sitting in front of someone and feel like I will strangle them the next time they twitch or do something annoying, I just have to look out the window and remember where I am - PARIS - and if I happen to be in a tunnel, I am greeted by a very familiar, slightly less annoying face - my own.
The first morning I took the metro to work, I wondered how people who take the same train at the same time every day interact. Do they say hello to each other? Do they become friends? Do they remain completely oblivious to the other's presence forever?
On the way home Wednesday, I took line 6 from Etoile instead of my usual trek down line 1 to Bastille. I sat in front of what just might be one of the most normal people I've encountered on the metro yet. He was old, old enough to be my grandfather, and wearing a red scarf like mine. He sat quietly typing on his BlackBerry. A few stops into the ride, a group of very loud, very annoying girls hopped on the train behind him, and I could see in his grimace that he was just as annoyed as I was. He continued to look down at his phone and let his eyes roll from time to time. At Pasteur, he got off the train, and all the way home I thought, that man is a much older, male version of myself. (I used to live at Pasteur)
Around three in the afternoon, when I'm digesting and falling asleep at my computer, I start thinking of everyone I saw on the way to work and what I'll wear the next day. Is this shallow? YES! Is it better than falling head first into my keyboard? Definitely! As I ponder the contents of my closet and the people I've seen since I woke up in the morning, my head goes through a rolodex of images - people dressed like they've jumped out a magazine, people dressed like they're going to work, people who look like they got dressed in the dark and people who belong in a different time period. It's a shallow and meaningless way to spend the afternoon, but as I work (because I don't actually stop working to think about these things) the thoughts and images just pop into my head.
Finally Friday and the bus ride back into civilization gave me the idea to stop at La Defense for a little shopping on my way home. It's the first week of work, first week of the soldes and I felt the need to celebrate with a purchase. Unluckily for me but luckily for my wallet, I found nothing of interest and wandered back onto the metro. At Etoile, standing in front of me, was the man in the red scarf. I was in shock of how coincidental and how surreal it was for me to be standing in front of him again. Sure enough he sat down, took out his phone and typed all the way to Pasteur. Although I did not sit directly in front of him, and I don't know him at all, I was happy to see a familiar face on the train.