Do You Hear the People Sing?

The metro in Paris feels older and larger than the metro in London. The ceilings are lower, the corners are darker, and the trains don’t go quite as fast. But the maps in Paris are much easier. Instead of names for each line and confusion over the direction of the train, the Paris underground uses numbers and signs that tell you the name of the last stop in the direction you are headed. That way, at least you know you are headed in the right direction.

I was on the metro, crammed armpit to armpit with other people, when the train rolled up to our stop. Courtney slipped right off, saying, “Pardon,” repeatedly. (Pardon is French for pardon, in case that wasn’t clear.) I tried to follow suite, but I got bumped in the side of the head by someone’s arm.

As a result, my glasses go knocked skeewampus on my face for a second. I looked up into the surprised face of a Frenchman, who immediately pointed a finger at me and burst out laughing. Embarrassed, I slipped straightened my glasses and ducked out the train doors before they beeped shut after me.

Still, I can’t get the image out of my head of the Frenchman laughing at me. But luckily, there are other images of France in my head too.

One of the coolest parts of being here in Paris has been the World Cup. A group of twelve or so of us found our way to the second floor of a café on the corner by the Bastille to watch the semifinal game of France versus Belgium. The Bastille itself, a huge prison building, is no longer there, long since torn down by angry French citizens who wanted to release the prisoners there. The French call that day Bastille day, and they treat it like Independence day in the US. Fireworks and flags everywhere.

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Anyway, we gathered on the upper floor of a café. I had a French sandwich called a Croque Madame [Croak Madame] which had a fried egg on top. This might not be obvious to Americans, but the French have a huge rivalry with Belgium. Both speak French and so they can understand each other when they get angry. Luckily, we didn’t have many (if any) Belgium fans in the house.

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The entire game was noisy and crazy. People both inside and outside the café were yelling and chanting and cheering. Lots of “Seven Nation Army” and cheering “Allez les Bleus!” [a-Lay Lay Bluh!] which means “Go Blues!” (the color of the French uniform.) Everybody went crazy when they scored and even crazier when they won that game. People stormed the streets, banging on cars, swinging on lampposts, crowd surfing and lighting fireworks and flares, and honking horns everywhere. It lasted until about one in the morning.

As a side note, I am very impressed with the French populace for their singing abilities. From my time in Lithuania, I recognized that not all cultures value singing the same way. The US, for example, has a thriving music culture, and people grow up singing along to the radio. France is similar in that respect, if not better than the US.

When I accompanied piano at church on Sunday (yes, they needed someone to play. In fact both Courtney and I accompanied at some point that day), I was surprised to find the entire congregation keeping time with me and singing loudly. It was wonderful. It brought new understanding to the line from the musical, Les Miserables.

“Do you hear the people sing?”

And sing they did, especially when they beat Croatia in the finals and won the World Cup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people so happy and celebrating at one time in my life. Sure, many of them were drunk already, but they were smiling.

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We watched the festivities mostly from the safety from the veranda at the Foundation, just off of the common room where we watched the game with face paint and ice cream.

It was a good reminder that it’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to be happy to be alive and to be the person singing. I think that the French World Cup song, “Magic in the Air” sums it up pretty neatly.

“Feel the magic in the air
Allez, allez, allez!”

Do you hear the people sing?

—M.M.

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