Monday, December 11, 2006

Bag Lady

It's seven thirty on Monday evening and the Métro is filled with good Parisians trudging home from work. People are well-dressed in dark winter jackets, scarves neatly tied around their necks. A few are carrying dark leather briefcases that fit perfectly across their laps. Women are bent over small notebooks puzzling out Sudoku squares, and a few folks are talking discreetly into their cell phones. It is the middle of Christmas shopping season, but no one has more than a couple of small, chic shopping bags that hint at tastefully extravagant gifts from Paris boutiques.

I stumble in the sliding door, pushing my way into the subway car and grasping for a pole. As neat and tasteful as these Parisians are, there are an awful lot of them tonight, and I'm not prepared to wait fifteen minutes for the next Métro.

At a less-than-imposing five foot two, I am not used to having people get out of my way when I try to enter or exit a subway car, but tonight I'm armed with grocery provisions and people stand back. I'm clearly dangerously determined to make it home.

I've become an expert at dragging stuff around Paris public transportation. My motto is, if it can be purchased at the Casino supermarket downstairs from my office, it can damn well be carried home. I rarely have much choice: the supermarket closest to home closes at 8 o'clock, and reliably getting home before then is not easy for me or my husband. It is much easier for me to drop by the store at lunch, and I can take advantage of a frequent too-hungry-to-be-productive half an hour before noon to plan dinner and put together a shopping list.

Sometimes I misestimate the burden I'm assuming, however. Today I headed to the train with three grocery sacks filled with a five-pound bag of potatoes, a two-pound bag of clementines, a bag of arugula, crème fraîche, hummus, a carton of cherry tomatoes, a leek, and a pre-potted amaryllis bulb. I tried to balance this all across my lap on the train and still leave enough room for someone to sit next to me and I succeeded well enough, but I made sure to get up and start gathering my things a good minute before we arrived at the station. Those seated near me watched carefully, perhaps in awe, perhaps just hoping not to get hit in the face with the end of the leek that was leaning precariously out of one sack.

When I finally push my way into the Métro, I'm certain I'm looking anything but graceful. People stare, either at me or at the leek, I'm not certain. I can't get a seat, so I give up trying to read and instead clutch my book to my chest. I watch the stations count down. As the recorded voice announces the stops one by one, I look around hopefully. At Saint Lazare, as many people get in as get out, but I figure the next four stops will empty things out. No luck, and my arms are starting to ache. What's wrong with everyone tonight? Must everyone take the line to the terminus? Can no one see I'm suffering?

I feel so inelegant, so un-Parisian, I'm not sure I even belong here. I wish I had a frame backpack and a pair of hiking boots, for I'd be more comfortable and no more ridiculous. At least I changed my mind at the store at the last second and didn't buy a roll of wrapping paper as well, though it would perhaps be useful as a walking stick.

One stop from the end of the line, I plop myself down on a seat and try to recompose myself. I still have everything, even the leek (clearly the single worst vegetable to carry in the Métro, I've decided). As I get up to exit, I realize two of the middle buttons on my winter coat are unbuttoned, allowing my scarf to billow out. La touche qui tue.

Does Elle magazine have hints for managing this better, and I haven't been paying attention? Or should I start factoring shipping dimensions into my meal planning? A suivre...