The art of people-watching: A dispatch from Paris
Andi Aguilar reflects on the vibrant sights of the Paris streets.
September 13, 2021
Some of the world’s most beautiful moments may be taking place right in front of you — you just have to find them.
As you enter Cité Universitaire in the 14th division of Paris, you could witness a child playing as a human bowling ball — sitting on a skateboard, getting ready to knock down the bowling pins across from them on the street. Forget to look up throughout your walk in the park, and you may be met by a rubber ball thudding to the ground while a child continues to search for it in the clouds. The ball, meanwhile, awaits his realization a few feet behind him.
As you glide through the Parc-de-Montsouris, make sure to look for the young soccer team scrimmaging, cheered on by a circle of adults. There is one child that stays back from the rest of the group because he finds more pleasure conversing with the adults. You turn to your right and there is an old man zooming through the streets on a scooter, while to your left, a 3-year-old attempts to hit light speed on her own scooter but falls flat on her face. Every spectator rushes to the scene to help, and soon enough she is dashing off again, this time with slightly more caution.
The outskirts of the park harbor a father and daughter on a secret mission to locate fallen acorns, perhaps to host a squirrel gala later on in the evening. Watch your back while traveling through the trees, as you run the risk of getting hit by a child swinging on a branch Tarzan-style seconds before the branch snaps and he lands on his back.
Turn to your left on your walk home from school and you’ll witness a father and son dancing together through the streets. If you sit in front of NYU Paris, it is quite possible that you’ll run into a baby pointing to the school in wonder while being carried by her dad. Her father immediately turns around and allows her to stop there and play for a while. A nearby security guard is suspicious at first, but then realizes how much the girl is enjoying herself and laughs along with them. Walk a few blocks down the street to the Seine and you’ll be met by an accordionist merrily playing for a little boy who claps and dances along.
Make your way down the escalator of the Saint-Michel–Notre-Dame station and you’re likely to see somebody singing and swaying with their headphones on. You wish you knew what song they were listening to. While you await the closing doors on the train, beware of a formally dressed group running as if their lives depended on it, each holding full glasses of champagne as they race to hop on before the doors close. Only a few steps out of the station, you could witness a girl lovingly adjusting her girlfriend’s hair, a mother and daughter praying before they indulge in a Nutella crepe, or two men absolutely astonished by the way a pigeon swoops down in front of them.
Look out of your window and on the balcony across the street. There is a young man eating a bowl of cereal overlooking the scenery before him, perhaps bearing witness to other perfect moments. Moments like these exist everywhere — you need only to decide to look.
A version of this piece appeared in the Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Andi Aguilar at [email protected]