The Paris Metro 40th Anniversary Issue: The Book About Paris Yesterday

The Paris Metro 40th Anniversary Issue: The Book About Paris Yesterday
Between June 1976 and December 1978, a fortnightly English-language magazine called The Paris Metro made quite the stir. To quote Lex Hames, the author of the election thriller All Fall Down: “What could be more wonderful than being in Paris in 1976 when revolution was brewing and rebellion was in the air and you were young and the Seine was flowing and all of Paris was laid out for you like – as you know who said – a moveable feast? Well, only one thing. Being there to write about it. In 1976, Joel Stratte-McClure, Tom Moore, Harry Stein, and several other young American writers of undoubted courage and possibly excessive zeal, started up an English-language magazine in The City of Light called The Paris Metro.” To celebrate the now-defunct magazine, a brand new book has been released– and it’s free for download. The Paris Metro 40th Anniversary Issue: The Book About Paris Yesterday includes 50 original anecdotes, memoirs, reflections and vignettes written by former staff members, writers and readers of The Paris Metro. Featuring 200 full-color illustrations and extracts published in past issues, the book remembers a glorious time. Go to and you’ll have the option of either downloading the PDF or viewing the book online. Below, we share an excerpt from the book: “Parlez-vous French?” by Harry Stein. Whenever I get around to talking about my days at The Metro, invariably the question arises: How good was your French? I’ll usually answer something along the lines of “Good enough to get by,” which it almost always was. Except, that is, at French-only dinner parties. There my problems usually began about five minutes in, when the adjectives and adverbs and especially the verbs began flying without context. There are a LOT of strange verbs in French – like écailler, to flake, or cover a dome with scale-like plates; or pantoufler, to act or talk in a silly way. Certain French people, in their depthless insecurity, live to impress others by dropping them all, pantouflering, as it were, all over the place. Alas, even in high school, French verbs were my Waterloo. On such occasions I was apt to lose the thread of the conversation pretty much as soon as it began. The trouble was never my accent which, so I’m told, was, at minimum, a solid B-plus. I’d learned early on to convincingly roll my R’s and, even more important, mastered some of the subtler traits of native speakers, like slurring certain words, or pursing my lips in disapproval while listening to someone of whom I disapproved, or, in response, blowing them out in distain. More than once, early in a conversation, it was clear the person to whom I was talking thought I, too, was French and then, picking up some odd mispronunciation that proved I wasn’t, couldn’t quite place where I was from. My friend Dominique, never one to mince words in any language, once told me I sounded like a very confident retarded person. In any case, by the time we launched The Metro, my French was a helluva lot better than it had been five years earlier when, fresh out of journalism school, I first came to Paris as a freelancer. Through a lucky connection, I managed to snag an interview with General Jacques Massu, former commander of French forces in Algeria, which I quickly parlayed into an assignment for the International Herald Tribune. Massu had just published a memoir, where he readily acknowledged he’d used torture as one of the “necessary measures” to break the rebellion, and it had set Paris in an uproar, with students demonstrating in the streets and editorialists demanding he be tried as a war criminal. The upside? Since Massu was refusing to cooperate with the French press, mine would be the sole — and definitive — story. The downside? My lousy French. In the couple of days before the interview, I laboriously made my way through Massu’s book, a French-English dictionary at the ready, composing a list of questions. But more importantly, I signed on as a wingman my fully bilingual friend Barbara, who would, at my signal, step in to incisively challenge Massu’s more outrageous claims. For where I was limited to the basics — torturer, blesser — in a pinch, she could whip out the verb for “to administer electric shock to the genitals.” Then came reality. Massu’s office was in Les Invalides, with its magnificent façade and imposing gold dome, and by the time we’d marched down a gleaming hallway a quarter mile long, past rifle-bearing soldiers snapping to attention to reach the tough-as-nails general, we were feeling all the confidence of luckless nobodies being trundled to the guillotine. I set my tape recorder on his immense desk and took my list of questions from my pocket. “General, vous dites dans vôtre livre…” “General, you say in your book that you used every means at your disposal against the Algerian rebels. How do you justify this?” “Il faut comprendre…” he unhesitatingly replied, his voice deep and sonorous, so he sounded more like he was reciting Shakespeare than answering my stupid, obvious question: “You must understand what we were dealing with. Our job was to apprehend killers. This was a good thing. When one apprehends killers, one reassures the population.” I glanced expectantly at Barbara for a follow-up. But, frozen in terror, white knuckles clutching the armrests of her chair, she avoided my eyes. So I looked down at my list and asked my next…

Lead photo credit : Yves Saint Laurent and Mary Russell, as seen in Mary Russell's photo essay in "The Paris Metro"

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