It came to mind one night, a memory old enough to be from a dream. Remember that road outside Gare de Lyon in Paris? Well I remember it as the road roght outside but Google Maps shows it as slightly off, with mess of convoluted access roads adjacent – it is a large station. I remember it as one of the initial roads we ‘explored’, not as tourists, but searching for an hostel. We walked up the quiet road, past closed shops, past smooth stone walls of buildings. I glanced at a green BNP Paribas ATM, the bank I didnt yet recognise. We went past many side roads, all nondescript. The road was a straight but slanted one. It points to that overhead pedestrian walkway garden thing that I regret never having gone up.
I been to that train station so many times. This and Gare du Nord. No I forget what it’s like in there. But who forgets SNCF’s iconic Public Announcement jingle. It will always remind me of trains and travel.
And then I also remember the train station at Lyon itself. The front door and the shops to the right. The bizarre arrangement of tracks above crisscrossing. The trams and buses outside on the plaza. And the presence of two confusing train stations, part dieu and perranche.
I remember hating the uneven cobblestones when my feet got tired from walking. I dreaded the staircases of the metro when I needed to move luggage – it was insane for poor students.
I still love going through fare gates without paying and then having monthly passes.
I thought it was funny when strangers ask me for directions.
I didnt like the dark quiet dangerous corners. I didnt like having fewer friends around. I didnt like being far from the beaches and the mountains. And the lakes.
I liked the bakeries but it gets expensive. I liked the overwhelming amount of fresh produce and fruits. I liked the balanced complete meals and healthy eating. I liked the disdain of fast food and the proliferation of family run enterprises. I liked the independence of the individual, the outspoken vocalness of locals, the less dependence on being served by wait staff, the casualness and homeliness of the city, the neverending art events and grand exhibitions, the night cafes that arent dank or shady, the atasness of even their red light district and adult entertainment industry.
I liked the city’s involvement in international politics and movements. I liked the crazed support for the dalai lama and Tibet. I thought the hairdressers were seriously expensive. I tried signing up for trainee haircuts but it didnt go through. The expensive salons were daunting. I thought the protests and racial undercurrents were disturbingly scary. I thought the homeless looking bum looking man on the metro who couldnt understand my french book was disturbing but on hindsight seemed really pitiful. I loved that they gave me a library card and I could borrow books for free. Well I found some travel guides in a library far away.
I loved that people drove small old cars that were dirty and functional. I thought parking meters were fascinating.
I tried to stay out of trouble.
The waiting queue at the immigration office was insane. I suppose it is as bad for foreigners in singapore. You wouldn’t understand unless you’ve been a foreigner in another country.
Of course there were the racist xenophobes. Which society doesn’t? And many of us are often susceptible to that.
I really miss the ridiculous door open handles on the old metro doors. The tiny facing seats. The city was tight, yes, crowded, yes. But all these manual interventions led to tiny human interactions that made the city closer and more converstional. Not that people talked or chatted to all strangers, but there were impercentibly small understandings when someone got the door or held the door for another.
I thought it was fascinating that I recall individual snapshots of random locales. Like a convoluted underground passage and a clunky elevator from the basement to street level near my hostel. Like convoluted street crossings. Like how far it is to walk from champs elysees to tour eiffel.