Saturday, January 12, 2008

Things that Stay in the Mind

I was living in Paris for part of 2003 - at 17 rue du bourg de Tibourg in Le Marais, a gay-friendly area right in the centre of the city. The arrondissement is full of gay nightclubs, and businesses catering to the pink dollar or 'euro rose'. My Metro station was Hotel de Ville.

One day, I was in the underground station and about to get two tickets from the auto-dispensing machine. And realized I didn't have any change. I started to discuss the problem with my partner when the woman behind us offered to pay. She was a working-class woman in her late 50's, perhaps a cleaner. Shabbily dressed. But determinedly cheerful in the face of poverty.

I profusely thanked her and started to make arrangements to return the not insubstantial amount. But she refused repayment with 'No no, it's just a pleasure to help you' and a great beaming smile. I was absolutely knocked out by her gesture - particularly in a city (somewhat justifiably) hardened to the millions of demanding tourists that invade each summer.

I know I will never forget this woman. I think it was her sense of empathy, followed by a generosity she could not really afford. Merci beaucoup!


  1. I was in Le Marais for a weekend last year, and apart from the 'natural' beauty of most things around, it was the generosity towards me, a 30 something Australian, that most struck me.
    Trite, but but true...I love the place, and the people.

  2. hey anon, glad you had a similar sense of the area. did you go to 'open cafe' - perhaps the most popular gay establishment in the area - a great place to hang and meet people.

  3. I've been to Paris twice for a very short visit (summer 1972) or passing through (spring 1987). The first time I came into Gare de l'Est from Carcassonne and then proceeded on to Strasbourg from Gare du Nord two days later. During the last pass through I came into Gare Montparnasse from St. Malo via Renne, by taxi to Gare de l'Est (I believe) and on to Bern, Switzerland by TGV. Would be nice to visit the city again but for a longer period. I did see Place des Vosges and the Notre Dame on the first visit but there is yet so much that interests me.

  4. hey volker. as i have probably mentioned my background is french - and i've been lucky enough to spend extended periods of time there - 9 months some years ago and a couple of months in 2004. good for activating my language again - sometimes when i talk, a word comes out of my mouth i never knew i had - have you had this experience? i remember 'singe' (monkey) popping out at le jardin des plants - and wondering why i would ever have learned that word. sounds the kind that's taught at school! rather than words that are functionally useful!

  5. Maybe she was hot for you?
    lol - Sorry just a joke.
    The kindness of strangers might be memorable so much because it just doesn't quite happen that much anymore maybe? I TRY to do good things for people occasionally, not to win some kind of imaginary future award later on when I croak, but because it just makes me feel better.

    Or something like that.... lol

  6. hey greg - i never thought of that! i was swooning away with grandiose thoughts of the milk of human kindness - and all she wanted was to give me a blow job!

  7. La belle Paris, ma coeur, mes rêves!

    My experience very similar, in Bordeaux, to store my luggage for the day, with a F50,- for a F5,- service, and they didn't have change either. A couple pays for me, small kindness goes a long distance. I do attempt to do so when possible, and I am on a disability retirement.


  8. hey beaumec39, great to hear this is not a totally isolated incident - and like you i try to be open to helping people in the same way. my family comes from Lyon but have been in Australia since 1851. great that you help in your situation. keep in contact! email is good