Underground tubes… Ah! For someone who has always had to travel in her parents’ car or occasionally taken the bus to school, taking underground tubes was indeed a big step for me.
In addition to mastering the art of ‘sandwiching myself’ in the trains during peak times, I had to learn the different itineraries and literally memorise the maze that is Paris’ undergrounds. Moreover, I had to get used to the unorthodox sights that seem to fester in the hollows of Paris’ entrails. Here below are a list of weird things, my sight has been blessed (or not) with, in the metro stations and tubes.
Just like in most countries with underground trains, you have got the timeless musicians. As far as I can remember, I have seen countless of musicians just barging inside the subways, and playing catchy tunes in the hope of getting a few euros from passengers. What is admirable is that, they are able to maintain perfect balance while walking around and playing their instrument! Once, I witnessed a talented accordionist playing some “vieille france” tunes, and on the contrary to clumsy standing passengers, he was deftly doing some French cancan moves! I still do not believe this is humanly possible unless you’re secretly some circus acrobat. In the same category, I once saw a perfect duo in the subway station. A dog is a man’s best friend, right? And the duo we are talking about here, is the embodiment of the man-animal cohesion. A musician playing the guitar with some electronic backdrop music, had his chihuahua perched over his shoulder. To make matters more iconic, the little dog was barking in tune to the man’s singing. I was baffled beyond measure and that definitely made me smile on the entire trip back home.
Then you have weirdos. There’s that expression in french thats says: ” Il faut de tout pour faire un monde”. Literally it means that it takes all kinds to make a world, so without weird people, our trip in the undergrounds wouldn’t be complete. I am most of the time alone when travelling in the subways and apparently that automatically puts me at the top of the ‘Easy Prey’ list. I am not only talking about vulnerability in case of attacks or anything, but about being blatantly ogled by strange persons. Yes, this is a major issue when you’re standing/sitting alone in the trains. A guy literally smiled and waved at me once. It was that creepy kind of smile, the one that starts as a small smirk, then with enerving slowness, progresses to a full “show-all-your-teeth” grin. Terrifying indeed. Another time, I was seated next to a man, who looked super busy conversing with himself. Of course, I do the same when I need professional advice haha. From the little I could grasp, he was (or they were?) deciding where to go. I also had the ‘chance’ to be sandwiched between a couple, who had brought their two Dachshund dogs ( you know the sausage dogs!) with them. I spent the whole journey praying I would not get peed on.
It always makes me laugh seeing people, who don’t buy metro tickets for whatever reasons, jump across the electronic barriers. You can be walking towards the ticket validation machine and casually see some display of flexibility irrespective of the attire. I was mouth-agaped seeing a woman in block heels attempting and ultimately succeeding that leap. Like hell, if I ever try that thing once, I shall end up with a plaster and that is no hyperbole.
Moreover, it was a cultural shock seeing a lot of homeless persons who seem to have found a place to crash in the stations. I even saw a homeless man peeing on the stairs as if he didn’t give a care about all the people around him. This was definitely not a pleasant sight but you can’t blame homeless people. By residing in the different metro stations, they are getting shelter from the harsh weather and in bonus, they can maximise their chances of having enough money to eat something.The other day, I had just bought a take-away meal from McDonald’s and was heading to the train when I saw a woman begging. She had all her belongings in a bag and looked miserable. I had no cash in my possession so I just gave her the food. Who knows when she would have been able to eat otherwise?! People in the subways are generally caught in their private bubble and do not pay attention to others while travelling. Consequently, I was surprised to realise that I was the only one glancing furtively at a barefeet guy sitting in the train while the others were apparently indifferent. Now I do my best to remain stoic in those situations.
Parisian architecture always calls to me. The worn-out bricks, the renaissance vibes emanating from every curves and nooks, just propel me to another era. Similarly, I have come across some weird and enthralling metro stations while travelling across the city. Prepare yourself for an immersion into the Nautilus (well it felt like that to me) in the station ‘Arts et Métiers’. The whole station is just plated in copper with potholes-like windows just like a submarine. Each ‘window’ depicts a Paris from the past. That really impressed me! In ‘Cluny-La Sorbonne’ station, the entire ceiling is decorated with tiny colourful mosaics, but the thing that got my attention was the mosaic signatures of all the important people who had lived in the surroundings, amongst which were Molière, Racine and Victor Hugo (to name only a few). There are many other eccentric stations in Paris that I haven’t visited yet but they are on my list!
So, as you see, what a priori looks like a random trip in the metro in Paris can turn out to be some weird adventure. I shall see more funny and creepy things to share with you during my stay in the city of lights and I shall definitely keep you updated. In the meantime, do not hesitate to share your weird encounters in public transports in the comments down below! Cheers!
-Tessa Lalljee (guest)