We stood out in the balmy evening air for a while, looking for cabs. “Buttresses! Get Liz!” someone called; I’d disclosed my flying buttress fetish while trying to get the perfect Notre Dame buttress shot earlier. Sadly, it was too dark to get the right shot. I don’t think I will photograph every French flying buttress in France, somehow.
Some of us got cabs, but a big bunch of us decided on the Metro. There was a metro station close, and we had Zoe with us, who travels to Paris for business, so, what could go wrong?
First: Paris doesn’t have so many sidewalk panhandlers as it has people who accost you on the Metro. Guy walks into the car with a battered guitar and portable tape player and amp. He turns it on. Hell ensues. I think the deal might be that we’re supposed to pay him to go somewhere else.
I am not aurally sensitive, but when confronted by loud-enough-for-distortion, recorded, tinny flamenco and out-of-tune guitar playing, a part of my soul dies. We endure it for two stops. On the third, the doors have already been open for a while when suddenly Zoe yells, “OFF! OFF! OFF!” and we all start pushing each other out of the door. Her voice has the timbre of drill sergeants. Our NCO legs obey before our minds can process. Part of me, fleetingly, thinks Zoe will not stand for the Flamenco Assault. I obey because of this as well. Good call, that woman.
In the mad stampede, Steph is stuck between the doors, which are trying to close. I am behind her, pulling the doors apart as hard as I can. Finally, we break free. Steph later has massive upper-arm bruising. I feel terrible, but I *was* trying to free her!
The platform is mercifully quiet in comparison, until Zoe looks up and starts laughing. “What, what? Was it the music?” we are all laughing.
“No! This isn’t our stop. This was my stop when I lived here,” she admits. “I panicked!”
No biggie, because the next train is six minutes away. That’s the thing about the Metro. It never takes long.
On the next train, we see Jane and her family. We are so raucous we don’t want to say hi in case we embarrass them. Zoe pretends to be a Metro Tour Expert, giving us made-up Metro facts. “The Chateau d’Eau Stop is named after a…house. Near a..some water.” This is possibly the best Public Transit Escapade ever. We giggle and say “OFF OFF OFF” at each other.
At the Gare Du Nord we reconnect with Jane and her family and begin the walk to the hotel. Almost immediately, we’re glad of Jane’s tall men, because a belligerent drunk starts following us. The neighbourhood around the Gare du Nord is not pleasant at night. Garbage builds up in corners and the sheltered spots reek of piss.
The drunk is not scary, just grubby. Any of us could take him out with a well-aimed punch, but he never gets in our faces. Just follows us, muttering. Jane’s towering husband and son walk between us and the drunk, who is muttering and hollering in turns, in French, about garbage and beer.
At one point, we have to stop for a traffic light. The drunk teeters along behind us and I think, Thank God, he’s lost interest. But he staggers up right beside Jane, who is beside me. She steps around me closer to her husband and I step closer to the drunk, to fill the space. I do not know why. To fill the gap? To become the first line against him? Was I spoiling for a drunk bilingual fight?
When we finally get back to the hotel, the drunk hassles the concierge for a while. He rattles the door. Finally he wanders away, without the police coming.
We disperse to our rooms, because Sunday is going to be long, and we’re exhausted.