When I first came here to Paris, I was the kind of person who frowned on Public Displays of Affection (or maybe it was just envy). Really, they were everywhere! Lovers groping each other on the Champ de Mars lawn near the Eiffel Tower, tongue action in the Musée d’Orsay, and even these bold canoodlers in the metro. Weren’t they on their way home or at least to a hotel where their enthusiastic kissing could be shared in private?
And then what I really wondered was this: how does the metro inspire such romantic behavior? It surely couldn’t be the sickly yellow interiors of some trains, or the harsh glow of those fluorescent lights that prevent you from dozing off on the way to an early-morning appointment.
With 171 rainy days per year - Paris’ best-kept worst secret! - maybe the only place that really inspires summertime romance is inside the steamy Paris metro cars. Or maybe it’s because the trains rock their way from one station to the next through long, dark tunnels. The confined space prompts budding exhibitionists into action, whereas at street level, in plain view, they’re less tempted to lock lips so enthusiastically. Or could it just be that Paris really is the most romantic city on earth, all the way down to its subterranean transportation system?
"In Paris, lovers love each other their own way." So sang Edith Giovanna Gassion in 1947, long after Louis Leplée called her the piaf, or little sparrow. Actually, the sparrow was one of goddess of love Aphrodite’s sacred symbols. Apparently sparrows are among the most sexually active birds, even if Edith Piaf sang not of lust, but of true love and tragic loss. In the song Les Amants, she reproaches Parisian lovers "without manners" which leads me to believe Piaf must have taken the Paris metro from time to time.
But I’ve come to learn that Public Displays of Affection are a natural part of living in such close concentration with others, even when they’re not meant to be public - just ask any Parisian how thin their apartment walls are! And being really, and I mean REALLY close to other people in the Paris metro is inevitable. When it’s a positive experience, I find that the perfumed proximity of rush-hour metro passengers heightens my experience of city living. But when I’m next to a guy who doesn’t know what deodorant is, I have to admit that living in a European capital, where space is at a premium, is sometimes a little too intense.
Just as intense was the case of incidental sexual harassment I experienced a few years ago in the metro: when the guy behind me reached around his girlfriend’s coif to pull her closer, he accidentally grabbed and tugged on my scarf, and I was pulled in to the lovers’ kissing vortex. A metro ménage à trois? No thanks!
City of love
But after years of first reviling and then admiring brazen lovers in Paris, I’ll admit that now I’m among the first to partake in a romantic metro interlude when the opportunity arises. Why should other people have all the fun? One summer, my man and I sat together on folding seats in a steamy metro train, headed home for the night. We held hands, and, yes, we were kissing at length, absorbed in each other’s company: those fluorescent lights didn’t matter, and we weren’t exactly admiring the metro’s décor.
Standing above us, holding the vertical bar for support, were a few twenty-something English-speakers. As our train swayed through the tunnel, I fell deeper into our kiss. But out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one of the guys discreetly jabbing his index finger in the air, to make sure his friend checked us out. The friend tilted his head in the same direction as his lopsided smile, shrugged one shoulder, and said, "City of love, dude."