by HRM on December 15, 2011

The Girl by the Door, by Kyra Simone

Every so often ever so once in a while somedays a woman gets a chance to set at her window and look outUntil we’ve had our own experiences of them, the spirits of unknown places only exist in our minds, fed to us in distant reports from the field, and built in great part upon the stuff of film and literature. Those who go out in search of the fantasy often arrive at something very different from the dream, discovering a reality less fantastic or more so.

In many ways, Paris is one of the ultimate fantasy cities, a real place that continues to be endlessly imagined—filmed, painted, written about, idolized and longed for, by those who don’t know it and those who do. “What if we were like Gene Kelly in An American in Paris, and danced along the Seine,” remarks Audrey Hepburn as Regina in Charade, walking with Cary Grant along the river and musing over a Paris from the movies before her time, imagining still, despite the fact of already being in the real place she has dreamed of. As a city that remains immortally picturesque, Paris has a habit of presenting itself as a landscape of dream, in which the line between the place itself and our idea of it is easily confused. But whether our visions prove true or false when we finally encounter it’s varied realities, places like Paris, and the actual happening of any real adventure, are still propelled by the dreams that drive us to go searching for them in the first place.

Zazie in the Métro (from which this column takes its name), is a film about a young girl’s longed for adventure in a legendary place—that place being none other than our city in question. It opens and closes with the same image, a train on its way to and from Paris, passing the drab suburbs surrounding the city, the sound of a child whistling sadly in the background. Zazie’s fantasy is to go to Paris and ride the Métro, but when she arrives, the trains are on strike, and the dream is foiled by the reality of the thing imagined. Here, many would turn back and exit the picture, but Zazie has the courage to improvise with the circumstances and by this, stumbles upon the real adventure, a surrealist satire played out on foot, revealing Paris as a movable world that changes colors and shapes, in which all mundane things are only sped through in fast forward.

Most of the time, Paris is as enchanting as depicted in film, at least by the looks of it. The beauty of its surface is nearly impenetrable, which, in turn, can serve as a blessing and a curse. The mystery of dreams is what lies beyond them. Paris, like most beauties, be they cities or people, still exists as a gallery of changing faces, some proving hideous in certain light. This isn’t to say that it isn’t fantastic, that films don’t tell the truth, or that we shouldn’t have fantasies. Only that our fantasies aren’t always realized the way we imagined them, and sometimes the result is something much more fantastic. One wonders what might have happened if the trains had been running. Perhaps Zazie might never have discovered Paris. Perhaps the entire film might have been skipped over in fast forward, only another mundane segment in the life of any person, repeating in cycles that blend into each other through the day, in passages beneath a city that goes unseen. At the end of her two days in town, Zazie does get to ride the Métro, only she never knows it, having fallen dead asleep on her uncle’s shoulder, exhausted from her adventure of Paris above ground.

As for those who came before us, the myths that help fuel our reasons for coming here, there remains a fact only learned by chasing their shadows: we cannot possess someone else’s legend, but we can perpetuate legends of our own. Whether we stay in the dream or return to our old worlds, the point is to have made the attempt at knowing the real thing, whatever reality is manifested. Our real adventure may fall upon us when we least expect it, as happened with Zazie and many girls after her, some who have grown into young women on their last rides through town.


It was after midnight already. The train stopped several times on its way through the tunnel, halting for the misfits stumbling onto the tracks, drunk or amorous, fallen from the platform, slow dancing in the howl of the head lights growing closer in the dark. Paris had become a zoo, as it did three or four nights a year, nights for the trains to keep running through the sunrise, as the fête carried on in echoes across town, resounding in the distance until the city seemed endless. The red eyes of the passengers spread through the Métros, as if there was some outbreak of disease rampant among them. But they were only faces painted with intoxication, Dionysians who’d been swimming naked in the river, drinking from each other’s glasses, dancing through rooms of smoke.

Sometimes people stare at each other for no reason. One notices and can’t decipher what the other is struck by. In New York the women look each other up and down, inspecting each other’s outfits, as ruthlessly as ogling men might gawk at their bodies. It wasn’t difficult to stand out in Paris. The girls were pretty. The lipstick was red. The crazy people clung to the alcoves and passageways, rarely so displayed in the light as they were in the open insanity of American cities. Paris was a place long settled in its identity, embedded in stunning miles of ancient buildings that were all the same color, housing a culture not easily changed. Some days, the beauty was monotonous, some days empty, always magnificent. But here, on this night, on this train, in this city, the young woman by the door just let the others look at her, imagining herself on the brink of an evening that would end like all the rest, to climb the creaking steps to her little upstairs room.

It was difficult to say where she’d been. By the looks of her, she was the sort to go walking alone, maneuvering slowly through the crowd in her delicate dress, a thin forties wrap with black lilies patterned across it. One could see her now, gazing upward as she went, dragged by the faint music drifting from the windows, pressing past the masses spilling onto the street from the bars and cafés, a sea of mustaches and drunkards. Everywhere around her came a cacophony of togetherness, but all she could hear was the clop of her own footsteps, knowing they were to be her last in this town. The lights had just gone out in all the children’s bedrooms; the stray animals had begun limping through the dark. She could feel the streets dissolve and move in on her, pushing themselves into the vaults of her memory. But perhaps she hadn’t been anywhere at all. Perhaps she had only spent the night waiting, as she did most nights, paralyzed with the sad yellow light that blinks inside people who live alone in rooms.

Occasionally the train ran for a stretch above ground. The young woman leaned her head against the door, habitually twisting her fingers in a lock of black hair, moving the pendant on her necklace back and forth across her chest. She looked out the window at the glowing city, almost comically forlorn, completely oblivious that later that night, she would be swept off by pagans— to dance until daylight and make love to a dark skinned man in strange hotel room in the early morning. The long exposure of people spun in a blur around her, and it was if she were still at the center of the photograph, the only thing in focus.

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