- GONNA EAT OR DRINK ?
- Good morning Good Sir! Would you mind if I breathe first ?
- PFFFF !!!
Sophia returned to a besieged Paris. It had been a month since we parted. The Yellow Vests, a social movement, were protesting all the time. The usual suspects were taking advantage of the situation to vandalize. And the Police attended all events, beating up everyone with equal animosity. That was the vibe Sophia was in. I would be landing in Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle in 9 hours.
France is a fantastic country. I had enjoyed most of my student years there. Life in France was so good it made me accept preventive strikes and racism as part of the culture. The food, the arts, the humour, the rich landscape, France has it all. Too bad I wasn't going to France. I was going to Paris.
Paris is overrated and overpriced. A city where bitterness is the norm, and arrogance the trademark. A place where quiet racism becomes hate crimes, where rats outnumber people and where peaceful demonstrations turn to massive police bludgeoning. Paris is a black hole that only absorbs the worst in France, the garbage juice at the bottom of the bin. I avoided it like the plague. This time I was transiting through. Only three days before my next flight. Three days.
I abandoned my straw hat at the airport and took the subway for Sophia’s place. Being Arab is enough of a burden there, no need to push it. The main subway wasn't working because of the protests. Two hours later, I entered the Menilmontant Café and stumbled with my heavy backpack in the empty, cramped terrace. Not even had I dropped my bag that the waiter was shouting at me. I told him I wasn't ready yet. He sighed, waived his apron and walked away, pissed off. Welcome to Paris.
Sophia joined me shortly after. There was a sadness to her eyes despite her best attempts to hide it. I ordered an espresso, an orange juice and a croissant au beurre… for 7 euros. The coffee was good. The croissant even better. These little things reminded me why I had stayed four years in France.
Sophia worked from home that day. We relived our trip from her couch. Jackie’s fainting, the colourful San Cristobal, Mateo’s breakdown, the Police in the bus, the sunrise in Bacalar, the bioluminescence in Holbox, the spicy tacos and the cherry-flavoured weed. It made her smile.
The day after I had lunch with Nicolas, a friend I met in Montreal. Nicolas is a brilliant engineer who worked on international train projects in Montreal, Berlin and now Paris. Bigger than his intelligence was his aversion to bullshit. Trained in Canada and polished in Germany, Nicolas called a spade a spade.
He was having a hard time adapting to the Parisian corporate world. His boss gave him a first warning because he was working too fast. Then an official warning for calling out the RATP director's incompetence during a meeting (RATP: French subway). It was true. Everyone knew it, but Nicolas said it. “While Canadians and Germans are building shit and solving problems, the French worry about feelings. That's why they're better than us!” I laughed.
I wanted to know his views on the Yellow Vests. Through his pragmatic lenses, Nicolas did not conceive how impeding others' work would solve anything. He was right. The constant protests only crippled the Yellow Vests' claims. They destroyed their legitimacy, getting nothing but Police beatings. I listened to Nicolas’ complaints about the Parisian life and smiled. I was grateful to live in a different world. A world that knew no protest, no Police, no RATP. A world lost in time, in a galaxy far far away.
Sophia was still down. I suspected it was a loss, something heavy she didn’t want to share. I did my best to help, to include her in my plans or give her space. On the third day, Nicolas invited me over for lunch before my flight. Spending time with friends is the sole reason to transit through Paris. Nicolas called me a cab to take me to Porte Maillot, where the Beauvais airport shuttle was departing.
I hugged him goodbye and jumped in the cab, happy to leave Paris’ morose ambience. The cab driver informed me that the Yellow Vests had blocked all the roads to Porte Maillot. Also, the shuttle got cancelled because of the protests. I had two hours to be at the airport...
In an immense gesture of solidarity, the cab driver empathized with my distress. He blamed the Yellow Vests and told me what a shame it would be if I were to miss my flight. He said it would disappoint and sadden my mom, and no mom should be left sad or disappointed. He let me reflect for a bit, then generously offered to drive me to the Beauvais airport… for 175 euros.
Welcome to Paris.