My Favorite Metro Photo: Faded but not Forgotten
A Few Stories Are Really about the Metro
“On his right he saw the Philippe Auguste passage, at the far end of which he thought he could make out a small factory. Unless it was a large shed. Militant! Of course! How could he have forgotten such an important thing! He had just taken part in a demonstration. A demonstration intended to honour the memory of the eight people murdered at the Charonne metro on 8 February 1962: small chance of him forgetting the date because he was at that demonstration as well, when he was only a little boy, holding his father’s hand. He wondered at being able to recall all that in such detail.” (p. 106)
“On 8 February 1962, at the end of the war of Algerian Independence, eight people suffocated at this metro station while taking refuge from the police who, led by their chief, Maurice Papon [convicted, in 1998 for ‘crimes against humanity’ during World War II], were putting down a left-wing demonstration against the far-right nationalist OAS (Organisation de l’Armée Secrète). Fajardie recalls the violence at the metro in his story ‘Rue des Larmes’ (‘Street of Tears’).” (p. 297)
For a very interesting and detailed description of the 1962 massacre see: “A Massacre in the Metro.”
“Confronting the Present" by Andrée Chedid (1920-2011) is a story that's really about the Metro. It describes a man who loses his sense of time when he is riding the train --
"It was the rush hour. It was extremely crowded in the metro. The seats were folded up to allow the stream of passengers to invade the whole compartment. For a moment Wallace doubted their existence—and then doubted his own."
And then: "At the exit, a young man with a lot of hair and a leather jacket held the door open for him. He hurried through, thanked him; at the same time sorry to leave behind that very special smell of the Paris metro. A sharp-sweet odour which he sometimes caught a whiff of back home in his house in the woods." (p. 199 & 201).
Oh, yes! I know the smell of the Metro. Sometimes when you walk over a street grid in certain neighborhoods, where the trains are not far beneath the street, you can smell that odor wafting upwards.
Another story really about the Metro: “Romance in the Metro” by Claude Dufresne (1920-2005). The central character is a punctilious man with no imagination. The story begins:
“Leaving home at 8.03, Hilaire Robichon reached the Porte de Vincennes metro at 8.12 precisely. Every morning for the last twenty-three years, Saturdays and Sundays excepted, he arrived there at the same time, at the same metro station. Time to buy his paper, get his weekly pass punched and reach the platform, and catch the 8.14 every morning, which set him down at Concorde exactly thirty-one minutes later.” (p. 252)
The remainder of the story seems like an imagined fantasy, but there’s a surprise ending!
Paris Metro Tales: My Impressions
In my opinion, this story collection as a whole is not successful. The stories just don't have enough in common with one another. The fact that they take place in Paris doesn't give them enough connection. I expected to read tightly related tales centered on the Paris Metro. That was not the case, and it took me a while to adapt as I read. First, as I said, the link of many of the stories to the metro is tenuous -- sometimes there's just a mention or it's in the neighborhood.
Another weakness of the collection is the editor's failure to give enough background information. Because these stories are set in many different eras, in fact different centuries, it would be nice if the date of composition had been given. You have to figure it out as you read, based on the biographical dates for the authors given in a list at the end of the book. Eventually I got used to this as well.
Reading stories with so many different themes and approaches made it hard for me to concentrate. I found myself forgetting what had happened in some of the stories, as I continued with something completely different. Or maybe some of the stories were just plain forgettable. All in all, I was disappointed in this book.
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