I wrote this a week ago and then set it aside. I wanted to think about it. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to post it. I have thought about it and I’m still not sure that I want to post it but I am going to post it.
In the years that I have been coming to live part of my life in Paris I have, of course, seen change.
I don’t like change when it involves Paris.
But I have learned to live with it.
The fact is, if I were honest with myself, many of the changes I have seen are at worst neutral, and and best good. In the latter category the rue de Bucci Paul comes to mind. It replaced a sort of ramblingly charming grocery store, and its bread isn’t anywhere near as good as three bakeries within minutes walk. But its products are really good. Just not as good. And it has added a nice little venue for American tourists to go and see and be seen and not have to figure much out.
It’s a lot like a grand Starbucks with a lot of bakery products and Americans feel at home there.
And in a pinch I have bought a quiche or a canelé or a sandwich poulet and been damn glad that Paul was there.
The canelés are really really good.
But Paul moving in and a grocery ceasing to exist, or a wine and cheese shop with a really nice lady who ran it going out of business, or the takeover of the Bucci produce mart by Carrefour are examples of business changes. And business, we are told, is a Darwinian beast and change is always for the better. Adaptive response or some such term seems to come to mind.
I’m not equipped to argue the contrary.
But I have seen other types of changes in the time that I have been living here. And they can all be gathered under the umbrella term social change.
The first few times I lived here I almost never saw a beggar or a drunk. The beggars that I did see seemed to be a sort of theatrical addition to the Paris scene, the little vaguely eastern European looking women huddled down on the steps of the various cathedrals that all the tourists frequent with little children clutched to their breasts. I always suspected there was a central casting for the little children. And it all seemed to be in good fun. The same little women were always on the same steps outside the same churches so I assumed that they had a sort of franchise and were in business. That left them, out, in my mind, of anything resembling social change. They were just part of the entertainment.
But then I began to see what had to be real poverty in real and terminal dire need of help.
It was at first only here and there and only once in awhile. As years have passed it has become almost everywhere and all the time.
And a similar sort of description would cover the increase in the number of abject drunks that now inhabit the streets.
But today I saw something I have never seen before.
On the Metro that I was riding to go to the aquarium at Port Dorée an older man, dressed in dessert camouflage fatigue pants and some sort of hoody got on with a giant can of Amsterdam Ale. He was badgering – verbally – a rather prosperous looking 50 or so year old woman. He wouldn’t let her alone. I don’t speak French so I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I knew what he was saying, and she kept moving away from him and he kept moving into her sphere of personal space and badgering her. Several of us fellow passengers looked at one another as if hoping someone could come up with an idea of how to make him quit. But none of us had an idea. Or maybe the old not wanting to get involved apathy was too strong.
The woman got off after two stops and the drunk stayed stayed on.
What happened next is probably worth a little bitty future post. But the story today stops with the woman getting off the train.
I have never seen any one obviously drunk, let alone still working on the process. I have never seen a drunk drinking a gigantic can of fortified beer on the Metro. In fact I have never seen anyone drink anything on the Metro.
And I have ridden the Metro a lot.