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If you’ve ever spent some time in the Parisian metro, you’ve surely seen the kind of couple that holds hands quite innocently on the metro platform. But once inside the moving train, they’re all over each other, indulged in slobbery kissing and even, in some of the more extreme cases, frantic groping. It’s enough to make you want to shout “Get a hotel room!”
Right now, with the sultry summer temperatures, it really feels steamy inside those metro cars. Perhaps the heat spur lovers into action. Or maybe the movement of the trains, rocking their way from one station to the next through long, dark tunnels – powerful metaphors popularized by American blues songs – gets passengers in the mood.
It could be that the protection offered by the metro prompts public displays of affection, whereas at street level, lovers are less tempted to lock lips with such gusto. Or it could just be that Paris really is the most romantic city on earth, all the way down to its subterranean transportation system.
Far be it from me to censure the passengers’ hedonistic enthusiasm – I find it charming – but what I’m wondering is how the metro inspires such amorous behavior? It’s not those aging yellow interiors, or the harsh glow of the fluorescent lights that prevent homeless passengers from dozing on the graffitied seats.
But wait just a minute… Many of the metro stations that were once deteriorated and crumbling have been given a relooking, or makeover. A huge network modernization “has been underway since 1998 and will be spread over 25 years” according to the RATP website. The campaign – entitled “un metro + beau” – is the largest renovation the metro has undergone since its construction in 1900.
So on your next visit to Paris, you’ll see fully renovated entrances and platforms, and maybe even a few maskless kissing passengers. If you hop out at the Père Lachaise station, you can visit the tomb of Édith Giovanna Gassion, who sang in 1947, “In Paris, lovers love each other their own way.” That was long after Louis Leplée called her the piaf, or little sparrow.
What Leplée might not have known is that the sparrow was one of goddess of love Aphrodite’s sacred symbols. Apparently sparrows are indeed among the most sexually active birds, even if Édith Piaf sang not of lust, but of true love and tragic loss. In the song Les Amants, she reproaches Parisian lovers “without manners” which leads me to believe Piaf must have taken the metro from time to time.
Public displays of affection are a natural part of living in such close concentration with others, even when they’re not meant to be public – just ask any Parisian how thin their apartment walls are. And the perfumed proximity of rush-hour metro passengers tends to heighten the experience of city living.
There was a time when metro riders would interact with each other verbally, but now most keep to their cell phone or music. Occasionally, rapper Kacem Wapalek’s voice filters out from between a girl’s gargantuan headphones, or I’ll overhear an umpteenth conversation about the old-new versus the new-new COVID restrictions in Paris.
But once, in a case of incidental sexual harassment, I was pulled in to a couple’s kissing vortex when the guy behind me accidentally grabbed and tugged on my scarf while reaching around his gal’s coif to pull her closer. A metro ménage à trois? Hmmm…. Non, merci.
Some people say they can’t stand public displays of affection, but they’re the first ones to take salivary revenge when the opportunity arises. One summer, my Frenchman and I sat together on folding seats in a steamy metro train, headed home for the night. We held hands, and well…. began snogging.
Standing above us, holding the vertical bar for support, were three American college students. As the train swayed through a tunnel, I fell deeper into the kiss. But out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one of the guys not-so-discreetly jabbing his index finger in the air, to make sure his friend checked us out.
The friend tilted his head in the same direction as his lopsided smile, shrugged one shoulder, and said, “City of love, dude.”
A few years ago, I was asked to research aphrodisiac ingredients. Among many of our other favorite foods, both strawberries and honey are known for their stimulating properties. And Champagne, in moderate quantities, also helps get you in the mood. But fine Champagne is best drunk on its own, so for cocktails, I like to choose another, relatively inexpensive bubbly like prosecco, or one made closer to home like crémant.
Parisians refer to the stultifying commuter routine as métro/boulot/dodo (or subway/work/sleep). Whether you’ve returned to that daily grind, or the pandemic stay-at-home routine just isn’t working your mojo, try this bubbly, fruity cocktail!
And, if you’re on your way back to Paris soon, and looking for the best cocktail bars in the city, make sure to check out 52 Martinis’ guide to the best Paris cocktail bars.
- 2 cups (200 g) un-hulled strawberries
- 8 whole basil leaves
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Cognac
- 1-2 tablespoons honey
- 1½ cups (350 ml) chilled prosecco, cava, or other bubbly
How to make it:
- Wash the strawberries, reserving the four prettiest strawberries for a garnish. Hull the rest.
- Muddle 4 of the basil leaves and the Cognac in the base of your shaker.
- Using a conventional or an immersion blender, purée the rest of the strawberries with the honey and pour the mixture over the other ingredients in the shaker.
- Shake with ice and pour into four chilled Champagne flutes or other glasses..
- Top up the drinks with the prosecco or other bubbly, and garnish with a strawberry and a basil leaf.
Makes 3-4 cocktails
Lead photo credit : A stimulating Metro Mojo cocktail. Photo © Allison Zinder