Paris, its streets parallel and perpendicular, neatly weaving in and out of each other, leading to the Grand Palais, over the Alenxandre bridge and into the cobblestones of le Seizieme Arrondissement. I walked that route every morning. I knew even where to cross to avoid the clusters of tourists on the Champs-Elysees.
Then he appeared- tall, skinny, with long blonde hair and a british accent. I saw him smoking sometimes outside of the American University of Paris. He always looked as if deep in thought, questioning some big existential question that I felt I would never even get my tippy toe near. I wasn’t very surprised when he walked in my Philosophy of the City class and started teaching.
He taught me about how cities are planned and structured and built. He argued that each city had a heart, a soul, and every street a purpose and an end. I had never looked at a city that way before. On my walks home I’d speak with the River Seine, ask questions to the Eiffel Tower and let the leaves of Autumn fall on my head. When I told people I was in love with Paris, they thought it was a mere expression of my appreciation for the city’s architectural beauty. They never understood the depth of my relationship with the city.
And then this philosophical tall soul taught me about the metro, and how it distorts one’s view of the city. He said that it was so convenient that everyone took it, but in their trips the part they saw and got to know of the city was only the location of the metro station they departed from and the location of the station where they arrived. The traveler missed the entire part of the city on his convenient trip underground. His view of the city was distorted from an open space filled with sights into a black tunnel with fluorescent lighting and staircases.
I thought of missing all the lovely bridges over the Seine, all the autumn leaves, the hidden boutiques and cafés. And I asked myself whether I would know how to get all around Paris if I could no longer count on the metro (for we all know the French like to go on strike). Would I know how to walk the city streets of Paris and reach the desired destination? Maybe. And then again, maybe not.
I looked at the Paris I’d come to love. I realized I never, ever wanted to miss another bridge or another hidden gem.
And that was when I boycotted the Paris Metro.