Fortified by my soy latte and sugar crepe and little else, I duck underground into the Paris Metro. Out of pure laziness, I attempt to purchase tickets without changing the language. I stare at a screen filled with numbers next to Euro signs and the word “carte” next to rectangular things that look like movie tickets. I end up having to backtrack anyway. There are likely people behind me getting irritated but I feel too ill to care. I stand in front of the kiosk for nearly six agonizing minutes while I try to push my massive hangover aside enough to follow prompts and place money in a slot.
After the machine eats my money, I am given two tiny tickets, which will surely get lost. They a tiny and my hands are large and my pockets untrustworthy – my purse, even worse so. I’m terrible holding onto things, especially today. As of an hour ago, I have already permanently misplaced a pair of gloves. Later, I will lose yet another pair. I am officially mentally handicapped.
The underground is tiled in tangerine and I wait for the small teal and white train that reminds me of something from Disneyland – a made-up version of a faraway place. Paris’ metro feels comparatively delicate to New York’s filthy, hulking, charging underground beasts and when I get inside of it, I feel a bit too tall. I hold onto a narrow silver pole and watch gray walls as we gingerly travel through darkness.
I manage to transfer twice without getting lost and am admittedly quite proud of myself. I walk through sprawling white tunnels with curved ceilings and Europeans walking on whichever side they like – slow, fast, being annoying or being annoyed. I forget how sick I feel until I pass some kiosk filled with the smell of burning butter and chocolate and run before my senses are overwhelmed. I am in a most delicate state.
The Pompidou greets me from the subway, large and square in blue and gray. Wind whips under my coat and I wish it were summer – not just in Paris, but everywhere. I long to be warm again, wearing shorts that barely cover my ass and sweating through my tank top. Everything bad I ever said about New York summers, I take it back. I would give anything for 100% humidity and a rattling air conditioner.
The inside is warm and spacious and everything hangs from the ceiling with straight wires and poles, giving the sky a linear quality where there would ordinarily be nothing. I purchase a ticket from a woman who doesn’t care about me and walk somewhere else to hand my ticket to someone who seems in a mildly better mood. I follow tourists into the glass-encased escalator that pulls us up and away above the floor of Paris, each level taking us further from the ground, further from the rooftops, until we are above it all, staring down at people moving briskly along cobblestone with an ordered chaos.
It is nearing sundown and I watch the gray sky crack into a noncommittal pink sunset. I stand alone, staring at the darkening buildings with their chimneys like Mary Poppins and their windows like Peter Pan. I hate that all of my European reference points are derived from a childhood watching Disney movies.
A pigeon passes in front of me, flying high and by itself, and I wonder at what height does a bird decide to fly. Does it take into account variables such as weather and wind? Does it suffer from self-doubt like any person would? I think of birds and how they often seem to stay close to trees and poles and food, straying away when only brave or powerful. Great heights seem reserved for eagles and hawks. But this fucking pigeon is quite high. Maybe he’s hung over, too, his little pigeon brain incapacitated by a night spent drinking too much gin out of trashcans.