Last day in Paris (2011)

I’m not sure whether this little descriptive passage from my fieldnotes will ever have much use in academic discourse, but it does remind me quite vividly of urban space in my fieldsite.

May 4, 2011. Last day in Paris. A man across from me on the metro dangles one hand in his crotch and texts with the other. A woman across the aisle is chewing gum and has flipflops with painted nails. The day is hazy, footsteps tap on the car floor, the train squeals as it accelerates; it picks up speed and the cement panels flash by and the advertising, CHOISISSEZ LE LOOK MALIN it says in orange on blue, hint of a smell of pastries, of sweaters, thrashing of the air through the open windows. I’m aboard the 14 train going to Saint-Denis to see a friend one last time; it sighs, the train, the man across from me now replaced by another, he rises, a woman gathers her purse, staggers a little as she gets off as the train shudders, with its long tube of fluorescent lights, with the grey of the car and the black of the tube that the tube of the train rushes along, rushes through; and I’m elbowed gently, but fortunately it’s not a période de pointe.

Crossing the halls in Saint-Lazare, they’re full of old piss, and a vague smell like supermarkets. The body is adapted to the flow of the crowds, knowing where to turn left, where to skirt the flow of other bodies from one or another staircase spewing and gusting, where to take the shortest path that avoids collision. Minimal eye contact when the body is still; more contact, maybe, when passing people coming the other way down the hall. Then on the 13, the order of the stations is long since memorized. Guy Moquet — that used to be my stop, I used to live there, leans and tinges of rain and familiarity when I went through the neighborhood the other day. Dimly lit tunnel is covered with graffiti, which wouldn’t have been true on the 13, since even metro lines have class politics. A man stands up very straight, his back against the door. The train rumbles and rumbles, not yet at the point of roaring. On a platform we see the manual laborers of the cultural industry, someone installing a new billboard, polishing it, smoothing it down. The man by the door still stands straight, the train continues to hurtle, to fling.