Paris: city of light, of love, of… Hold on, clichés aside, the reality of Paris is very, very far from what the Tourism Office of the French capital would have you believed. Paris is dark, littered, noisy and stinky. If it were a person it would be an ex-criminal living in the Métro after having been released from prison, peeing in corners and spitting on passersby.
How, I hear you think, can I seriously say such things?! Well, I was born in Paris. As such, it gives me allergic reactions to ever set foot in its ugly reality, but since I’ve been back to Europe, I found myself stuck here, looking for a job and living at my mom’s (thanks mom!). As a Parisian, I’m ALLOWED to hate Paris. I am also very well placed to shed some light on what life in Paris really is.
It hit me yesterday morning: since I am stuck in this city, I might as well write about it. And then, yesterday happened.
After having been woken up by incessant banging on trashcans some call music, courtesy of the Nike Women’s race, we (mom and I) decided to do something. That would not require a “decision” anywhere else in the world, but you see, when I’m in Paris, I usually try to keep my leaving the flat to a minimum, venturing out only in emergencies such as running out of cigarettes, coffee or wine, or when it gets critical that I move around more than from the bed to the living room and from the living room to the kitchen, usually once a week.
But yesterday, all of a sudden, we felt like doing something, the sun was shining, the buses weren’t running (that happens a lot), and the prospect of watching dvds in between writing covering letters all day didn’t seem very appealing.
So we walked to Le Marais, our second home, the one place we go to a lot, mainly because we have friends working there, and it gives us something to do to go and check out on them now and then. After having seen the “Magie” exhibition at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme, we walked down rue Rambuteau and saw some friends of mine who I thought were still overseas but had, in fact, come back and were having crepes at their own restaurant.
When old friends see each other in Paris after a while, the conversation ALWAYS turns to “when are you leaving next”. It has to be done. Nobody would ever assume you are staying here for long. No sane person would. Once the window of opportunity for further meet-ups has been established, old Parisian friends usually spend some time complaining about Paris, and explaining at great lengths why they are leaving again in such a hurry. Preaching to the choir, in other words.
This time, one of our main reasons was people. The complete lack of humanity in Parisians is world famous, so let’s skip to the interesting bit: “If you fall down on the street here, people will leave you to die” says a friend. “And they will definitely complain about it too. How you could have picked a more convenient place to fall flat on your face than in front of their favourite bakery. I mean, it must be horrible to have to SEE someone dying there. Puts you off your macarons” added my mom with a little smile and a lot of sarcasm. We declined the invitation to have some crepes, kissed goodbye, and walked down the street with no real purpose. We didn’t go far.
Half passed out at a bus stop was an old man. Actually, at the time, we didn’t realise it was an old man. All we saw was a hooded figure curled up on itself, not moving. That person didn’t seem ok, but people – a lot of people, actually, as this is Le Marais on a sunny Sunday afternoon – were streaming past, either not even glancing in the direction of the hooded figure, or giving it a wide berth, disgust painted on their faces, or a little smirk that said all too clearly “Poor sod, idiotic to decide to have a problem here. Oh, look! Chocolate!” Mom and I were the only ones who stopped. And at first, we weren’t much help, neither of us knowing what the emergency numbers were, and me without a French phone. Finding out the SAMU’s number by going into a, wait, yes, chocolate shop, we proceeded to call them and give them as much information as we could. The SAMU, Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente or, like I would very much like to rebrand them, Systematically And Malignantly Useless, is, for all intent and purposes, a call centre. I kid you not. I could never really figure out what they were used for before, now I know: nothing. You see, the SAMU despatches help, if, and when, the will takes them: not very often. Why we didn’t think of calling the Pompiers (fire-fighters) straight away, I have no idea.
Anyway, we called the SAMU. For Parisians, we really are very naïve. We waited, and waited, and… I eventually called back, to be told with as little courtesy as they could get away with, that it wasn’t their problem and the Pompiers were on their way, it took time to get into a truck and get to where we were. Oh, what an annoying little woman I was, disturbing them on a perfectly fine Sunday afternoon for something so trivial as a man barely moving in the middle of street! During this time, not ONE person took any interest of the poor old man. We, on the other hand, did attract weird looks and sneers, why wouldn’t we just move along and be about our own business. The woman from the chocolate shop did, though, come out to see what was happening, and, oh kind heart that she is, brought the old man some water and a pastry. Bless her.
That’s when the Pompiers called us. Because you see, they had been notified of something being wrong somewhere in Le Marais, but it turns out, the SAMU hadn’t given them any particulars. Such unimportant information we carefully repeated about a thousand times, like what street we were on, where exactly on said street, and what the emergency was, had been, apparently, forgotten.
Once they arrived, though, they took care of everything, and, we assume, took the little old man to the hospital. Not only does it seem they know how to take down information, but they didn’t tally and got there within 5 minutes, which is as much as we can ask of them.
What a stir! Surely we had a ring of onlookers clamouring to know what was going on?! Erm… no. Someone had managed to sit on the other end of the bus stop bench, as far away as the ailing hooded figure as possible, looking the other way, whilst a family with a teenage boy proceeded to laugh and point, a welcome entertainment during a long wait for the bus. How funny, look darling, someone dying! Let’s take everything in, some idiots called the Pompiers! What a story to tell at a dinner party, no one will believe us!
So, the little old man did not die, at least, not so far as I know. But how easy it would be, to die in Paris…