A young woman not much older than myself steps off the curb and swings her hand seductively. She has beautiful skin the colour of mahogany and her black fringe frames her face at just the right angle. Her jacket is unbuttoned and just as she raises her arm at a passing vehicle, I notice her black lace bra. The car doesn’t stop for her, and she appears flustered as she steps back unto the sidewalk waiting for traffic to start flowing again. She repeats her routine but no suitors are stopping so early in the day. She holds the beauty of a model in this great fashion capital, yet she finds herself working the outskirts of a disillusioned Paris.
At the entrance of the metro, a woman veiled in black sits with her hand outstretched. I can see neither her hair nor her shoes, which are covered by the long shapeless cloth. Her face, slightly bowed, stares vacantly a few feet ahead. She appears ironically unaware of the sporadic crowds ascending and descending before her. I few steps down, I encounter another woman in the same predicament, though she appears rather restless.
On board the metro, I find a seat and a middle aged man extends a kind smile to my friend. When a seat becomes available next to him, she takes it. As she goes to sit down the man stretches out his hand to grab a handful. This must be a mistake. Still in shock, she apologizes; surely she sat down too soon while le monsieur was trying to clear off some crumbs. She is naively mistaken and within seconds leaps off her seat, visibly upset by the man’s second advance.
A gypsy woman wanders the plaza in front of Notre Dame de Paris. Her steps are aimless and at times intrusive. Behind a disheveled braid she has a stained cheek and eyes the colour of coffee. She is very forward in her demand for a few euros; I offer her my baguette with brie and saucisson instead. She contemplates my offer and shrugs her shoulders as she grabs my lunch and walks away without a merci. De rien, mademoiselle. De rien.
As I make my way to my apartment that evening; a treacherous task when walking down crooked unlit streets where garbage and dog excrement dot my path, I encounter two teenage boys. Neither of them sober. “Welcome to Pah-rrris!” they holler my way, and just like that, any grand illusion I had of Paris is finally erased.
Paris isn’t always the dazzling Eiffel Tower, afternoons at the Louvre and shows at the Moulin Rouge; sometimes you are met with a city that has flaws like many others.