Metro Singers in Paris

Commuting to work by metro for the past month has proved surprisingly eye opening. Aside from Parisians living up to their reputation for being on the frosty side and demonstrating an overly inquisitive nature, I have been fascinated by the variety of people who hop from carriage to carriage in search of charity. On a daily basis I witness not-so-fresh old women laden with plastic bags, men burdened by overflowing backpacks, eastern European karaoke singers suited and booted, desperately attempting to make ends meet. Every day, I observe how these impoverished people generally fail to get noticed; marks of defeat and misery visible to all. One such day towards the end of February I was sharing a carriage with a woman I presumed to be in her forties, wild straw-like ashy-blonde hair falling below her shoulders, her overgrown yellowed fingernails curling round the central pole. The woman (whose face I never actually saw) was singing a rendition of Jaques Brel’s Quand On N’a Que L’amour. In her hoarse, broken voice, she croons to a carriage brimming with commuters, burrowed and half-hidden from my view. Having never heard the song I try desperately to decode the lyrics, grasping the odd refrain and in particular the song’s poignant ending- ‘alors sans avoir rien, que la force d’aimer nous aurions dans nos mains, ami, le monde entier.’ Indeed, if all we knew was love, the world would be a much happier and peaceful place. It was thus ironic that on this day, contrary to the song’s message, no love was shown to the metro singer. The nameless, faceless singer will remain in my memory for a long time yet- she was like a Bellevilloise character snatched from the set of La Vie En Rose, armed with a powerful song about the dying need for love on a global scale.

Myself in agreement with Brel’s wise words, consider that above all else, every single human being should make their primary goal in life the ability to offer and experience love. The world (as we all learn to discover) is not always merciful, and what we have in the short lives we lead can never be truly guaranteed- one must fight for it each and every passing day. Consequently thus, it only seems logical that we prioritise the people we care about, disregarding in turn all material matters and insignificant worries that encumber day-to-day existence.

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