Paris - Different City, Different Vibe
March 30, 2016
Somewhere in this city, I knew there was at least one place off the beaten path. It was shrouded in mystery, and only its name had been cried out in a whisper in my ear. So on a Friday night, I set out to discover what was hidden behind the riddle.
It was late at night, and after unsuccessful researches Pierre unsurely followed me on a dare to a tiny street where the club was supposed to be. There we found a discreet door featuring nothing but a name. It could have been anything: a shop, a society, a meeting group… There was no show of colorful neon, glitters or disco balls, just a wee sign on a black iron door, prompting many troubling questions in the first-time visitor’s mind.
Pierre hesitated. I didn’t. I knocked. A few crucial seconds went by, too few to tap again, too many to make us comfortable. A perfect timing meant to discourage any intrigued but unmotivated stranger.
When a petite woman in a tight and elegant black dress finally answered, opening the heavy door by a crack, all I could see in the gloom behind her was a black curtain hanging from the ceiling and falling in many folds to the floor. It was about 2 a.m. and their night had been on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to ours. She gently explained that they were closing early, and quietly shut the opening, preserving the secrecy of this sanctum. I could have screamed in frustration!
On a few other occasions I was tempted to try my luck again, but I would have been on my own. I would have had to walk or grab a taxi at the end of the night, alone, tired, wearing stupidly high heels and being unable to run for my life if it came to that.
You may wonder why I am thinking of such a thing… Well, time for an explanatory intermission that will give you an inkling of the Parisian atmosphere as I know it.
In Paris in her youth, my mom used to go swimming in the evening. At the end of the session, she would have to walk and take the metro at night, alone or with a girlfriend. She would wear a bigger jacket to pretend she was larger (and less attractive), flats (it makes the running easier) and carry her swimming bag containing her hefty lead diving-belt (useful apparatus. You never knew). Nothing was particularly unusual about these precautions, it was just something you had to think about.
Fast forward 40 years or so, the same preventive measures still have to be taken, the same stories are being told, sometimes they are a lot worse. Most women I know avoid going out at night alone or at all. Aggressions are happening in public spaces, in daylight. Some men I know are hiding their sexual orientation in fear of being beaten-up… and people are indifferent about it. It just is.
I am fully aware that human ugliness can be found everywhere, but I had forgotten how often you come in contact with it in crowded places.
I guess I was used to it back then. I used to think it normal to make sure I was wearing heavy boots, jeans and a leather jacket. I used to think it normal to check I wasn’t being followed. Emmanuel always depicted France as a place of danger. I used to dismiss it, telling him to stop exaggerating. Today, I am apologizing, I rally to his point: I don’t feel safe at night, neither in Marseille nor in Paris.
So, did I feel like going dancing in Paris?