It wasn’t even so long ago, less than six months, yet I remember it in minute detail. It may be so clear because of where we find ourselves currently. The changes have been sudden, yet society has acquiesced en-masse. For some reason, it makes me think about my family, ones I never met, generations before. The ones who had full lives, in the place which is called Ashkenaz; then like a fist shattering through glass, it was gone. Previous life decimated as if it never was. Sometimes it feels that way now.
My mind is sharp, I see the lights, the detail. It’s Xmas eve and in the city of love, the centre of the universe, the famous Metro is down. Workers have been on strike, protesting for better conditions and a reversal of the recent changes to laws affecting their pension. It has been in this state for almost three weeks and has nearly brought Paris to its knees. Yet somehow just as the body finds ways to compensate when one loses a pathway to the heart, the city has circumvented it, the people have adjusted somehow. The shops are filling, the tourists are ever-present. Tuk-tuks have become a ride of choice and the bus system has risen to its greatest challenge in decades.
The magic of this place has been revived. We have trekked her Champs Elysées, until every shop closed their doors and then dragged ourselves to the bus station at the corner of the Avenue Montaigne. It is a challenge to simply put down the phone, to cease with the snaps, as the glow of the lights pulls you in time and time again. Yet tonight as always, one finds it best to move at a pace, keep your head lifted, so as not to crash into another google eyed visitor or joyous local. Like one pulsating body we move, soaking up the festive atmosphere which is Paris in December.
Every bus that opens its doors at the station is like a death defying circus act – humans spilling out onto the pavement to allow for one of the passengers to alight. The buses are so jam packed that the relative pressure of the door opening is like a physics experiment – a balloon which cannot contain another drop of air.
Here again at 11:15pm, we wait our turn, the bus pulls in, the piston releasing the door flies open and at least twenty bodies drop out. Some are exiting, others scramble back on and we race to join them. ‘Get in,’ screeches my son. ‘Look out!’, cries my daughter. They are looking out for me. I bruise so easily but I am fine, more than fine, the adrenaline is pumping. I feel alive, I am laughing as I force my way in. I am separated from the rest, leaning against a horizontal bar near the entrance as my husband and son grab a hold of a central pole and my 14 year old daughter becomes sandwiched between them. A tall, polite, bearded stranger who looks 50ish is struggling to keep a hold of his small, brown Spaniel. We feel alive at this moment. It is a human sardine can; it is loud and colourful. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was only a few months ago and now it seems like a completely different life and I am not certain we will ever regain it.