Friday, September 29, 2006

Locked in the Paris Metro

My friend, Chris, was telling me about his trip to Paris, and it reminded me of the time I almost got locked overnight in the Paris Metro, which is the French equivalent of our subway system.

It was a bit over 10 years ago, a cold February night. I had flown to Frankfurt to visit friends and took a train to Paris. My ebullient mood could not be diminished by the cold nor the musty room I had - after all, it was a block away from Notre Dame! My first night there I decided to dine at a small bistro near the Ecole des Beaux Arts (let me ask now for your indulgence if I spell any words in French incorrectly). I stood outside in the rain with my French/English - English/French dictionary and translated the entire menu. Having heard all the horror stories about the French, I was fearful of asking if they had a menu in English and being hit on the head with a baguette and being chased out of the bistro by a meat cleaver-swinging fat chef as the staff and customers cursed me in French as a boor and ugly American. My translation a success, I had a great meal of soup, "poulet" (chicken to you and me), veggies and a cheese plate for dessert, as well as a nice glass of red wine. My middle aged waitress, with that high, sweet sing-songy voice so common in French women, asked me at the end of my meal, "Monsieur, terminé?" (sp?). I thought, "Terminé? Sounds like terminate, so she must be asking me if I am finished!" I answered with a triumphant "Oui!" and paid my bill.

Later that night I went out to hit a nightclub that I read about in my guidebook. I stopped in a cafe for a rejuvenating espresso and went to the metro. I had to go two stops and switch trains. I took the first train, got off and went to another track (if any of you have ever been on the Metro, you know that it's a labyrinth of hallways) for my next train. It was empty except for me and a drunk. So I'm standing there waiting, and I hear the click of the loudspeakers and a man saying, "Madames y monsieurs, blah blah (in French) blah blah blah TERMINE blah blah blah." I thought, "Waitaminnit...terminé. Terminé. Oh, like the waitress asked me at the end of my meal... terminé...terminate? Finished? Holy sh&t, they're closing the Metro!!!" I ran full speed through this labyrinth and did a Charlie Chaplin-like skid around this corner to come face to face with a French cop, who was pulling a gate closed. He looked at me quizzically and I stuttered, "Uh, uh, terminé?" He said. "Oui, Oui!" and pointed to his watch and muttered in French as I squeezed through the gate and made my narrow escape, trying to grasp the fact that I came about five seconds from spending the night locked in the Paris Metro.

The lesson is: not all trains are 24/7 like our dear, drafty, rat filled New York Subway system, so when abroad, FIND OUT THEIR CLOSING TIMES!