Paris Récit: At Abbesses métro

Deep, deep in the underground of the Abbesses métro there is a choice: take the stairs, the what appears to be, feels to be, hundreds of steps to come to the external entrance, or wait for the lift. Parisians always wait for the lift, fully aware of the struggle of making the ascent, especially those last final steps. Tourists eager to finally see Sacré-Coeur, can you imagine, see the exit sign and enthusiastically start gambolling up like little goats with great gusto.

Yesterday there was a couple waiting for the lift, who didn’t look French though they were not speaking, so I don’t know for sure if they were foreigners. They were a bit heavier than the French standard, wearing clothes that were also a bit heavier (though, of course, French people; French women especially love wrapping themselves up in thick scarves this Spring-like weather as if they were Scott of the Antarctic).

In French there is a word and concept that is not easily translated into English, that of the regard, as you can see here, the word itself carries multiple meanings, or perspectives:

regard nm
(expression des yeux) expression, look n, eyes npl
Elle a le regard vif et pétillant.
She has a lively, sparkling look.

regard nm
(action de regarder), look n, (short) glance n, (long), gaze n (figurative) eye n
Elle porte un regard très juste sur les choses.
She brings a very exacting eye to bear on things.

Note how in the two examples above, the subject is feminine. This 'look' can also be much more subtle, or nuanced; a person might say that the regard of a person is gentle, or affects them in some way. It refers to the way someone looks at something and the expression on someone’s face; the act of seeing and being seen.

Also waiting for the lift was a woman in her early 20s at most; with that shapely bird-like young woman’s body that seems not yet formed, not yet changed by her experience of life, with such tiny legs like driftwood. She had long blonde hair that she played with absent-mindedly, as she talked with her friend (and later tied into a long pony-tail that swayed as she moved).

The woman in the couple wearing heavy clothes would have been in her late 30s or older possibly, had dark red lipstick and an attractive face. She also wore jeans. And how she looked at this younger woman; she could barely direct her attention elsewhere.

I watched her watching the young woman. The expression on her face transfixed me, as it was a combination of curiosity and, possibly, tenderness marked by loss. I was intrigued by this and the way she could not look elsewhere, there was a certain hunger in the way she looked at this young woman that did not reflect the situation as it existed in that moment.

Now I know most people reading this would say it was ‘jealousy’ – how we like to believe that women are jealous of other women – but this would not be correct. Her expression had a softness about it, especially in the way she seemed so compelled to look at the young woman who was completely unaware (and yet her look was not maternal).

Others might refer to the silent man standing beside her, standing there staring at the announcement bar above the lift, but he was absent. Those same people might argue that there was some story of infidelity behind this (perhaps this woman had found a secret cache of imagery of a bouncing cheer-leading archetype – long hair cutting into her back like ribbons, or rivulets as she shook her body - on his laptop, when the mid-afternoon sun made the expression on the teenage girl’s face difficult to make out, distinguish …) 

Now could be the point for me to introduce some critique – and the temptation is strong – of how women are perceived when they are no longer young, but this would be completely inappropriate, far too heavy-handed; the older woman looked at the younger woman as if she were an exotic species, a flower she had never before seen.