Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Under a luminous grey sky

Paris is a city of dreams for many people. For me, it's my home and a place of very specific realities. It's a place where almost everything in my life had changed or was lost, and then was re-born again. Some streets still have the power to create a brief, piercing nostalgia in my heart. But most often I walk past these snapshots of visual memory and see and feel only the present. The layers of time rest gently on me today.

As the train takes me from the banlieue towards the center of the city, I watch the anonymous towers of apartment buildings flash past the window. The sky is a luminous grey bowl and creates a pearlized monotone of the landscape. Inside the train, all of us are clothed in winter coats, shadows and our private thoughts. Hands hold tickets, a paperback book, or rest passively on laps. The cold wind has dried the hands of a woman sitting next to me and she carefully rubs creme on them. As passengers, we study her motions, restlessly eager for something interesting to break the monotony. When the train stops at stations, people silently move on and off the train, and a breeze enters the compartment before the door slams shut again.

The window next to me has letters scratched on it, a series of random curves and what looks like SCR. I wonder about the hands that did this act and why. Did other passengers watch with disinterest or curiosity? Who got nervous and moved to another section of the train? Who smiled and nodded?

The train shudders and jerks to a stop. I jump to my feet and join the press of people who exit the train. Within minutes, I’m walking on the street and the train is gone, taking away the echoes of my thoughts, the warmth of my seat now occupied by another traveler.