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!

1 comment:

jinglepopgirl said...

Ah, France. When Annie (yes, that Anne, Joe) and I were 21 and backpacking in Europe, we shared a room in Cannes with this guy and gal (not a couple) we met on the train. We'd gotten into the city late and were thrilled we were able to find a room, AND share the costs.

Anyway, the gal leaves the next morning, and the remaining three of us decide to bunk together that next night.

Little did Anne and I know this guy was a psychotic alcoholic who throughout the day kept getting drunker and drunker. At one point he took off his shirt, and with a watery, shark-like stare in his eye, began flexing, saying something like, "I wasn't born like this, you know." [Insert shower scene music from "Psycho" here.]

When the three of us went out to dinner, he kept shouting things that were making the French patrons snicker in complete mockery. I kept saying to Anne, "We have to get away from this guy. We have to get AWAY!" And by this I meant we had to also get out of that room, as I was certain one or both of us would be raped during the night.

Anyway, we finally get out onto the street, and after walking a few blocks, we stumble upon a street festival, where these cute guys start flirting with me and Anne. I ran up to one of them and said, "Bob! I'm so happy you came!" And I whispered in his ear, "Play along! We're with a psycho!"

Bob and his pals were happy to oblige and as soon as our psycho friend turned his back (in complete disorientation and confusion), Anne and I bolted back to the hotel, packed our backpacks, and ran out the front door, but not before looking both ways to make sure the coast was clear. (We were truly terrified.)

We slept in the train station that night, which really wasn't a station...just a few outdoor benches covered by a roof. I remember being awakened at about 5 the next morning by a lumbering train that must have had 90 cars. I was annoyed, but figured it was better than being raped or dead.

Ah, to be yo