Via Dominique at the Petit Champignacien Illustré: The non-profit association graphê is trying to drum up support for their online petition, which asks the French state to preserve the collection and archives of the Imprimerie nationale (the national printing works), an institution that has existed since 1539 and whose premises are currently being sold off:

The historic collection it holds - due to be so dispatched - is a unique, priceless testimony of the history of the written form, from the 16th century to the present. It includes the Cabinet des poinçons, or Punch Room, holding hundred of thousands of letterform and character punches, for both western and oriental scripts; functional workshops - a foundry, presses for typography, lithography and copper-plate engraving work, stitching and binding - as well as a library with over 30,000 volumes, and the archives of the State printing works. Set up in 1539 by King Francis I, at the same time as the Collège de France, the national center of academic excellence, this collection stands as the memory of specialized know-how and expertise, and as a center for creation, now fated to disappear if its continued survival is not ensured.

Typography and its history and know-how don’t have a lobby, not even in such a relatively history-conscious place as France. The petition text is online in 26 languages.

The French noun rencontre signifies a chance meeting, an intersection of one’s path with that of someone else. Sometimes, the paths run in parallel for a while, often they diverge again quickly. The English quasi-equivalent is “encounter”, but as always, the connotations are just a little different.

This post is about three such encounters. All of them took place in the underground halls of Métro Line 14 in Paris. The first two last Thursday, after seeing off Steph at Gare de Lyon. The other one on Monday. I live near one of the end points of Line 14.#[1] It’s my home line.

  • Hostility. I don’t have too many qualms about letting ticketless fellow human beings slip through the automatic ticket barriers with me. It’s the local custom. This case was slightly different, though: I was exhausted and jittery, and only saw the woman on the other side of the barriers when she covered, with her hand, the infra-red light that keeps them open while you pass through. I hadn’t really noticed the second woman.

    The goal of the manoeuver was to keep the barrier open so that the second woman could go through after me, but I hadn’t realized that either. Problem: woman number one was too quick, so the barrier didn’t even open for me. I grumbled at her.

    Once inside the station (with woman number two coming after me, which was when I understood what was going on), I got yelled at. What would it cost me to let some through? Connasse! I shrugged and said a bit pointedly that I didn’t care. Reaction, aggressively (for a moment I wondered if she’d hit me): “[If] you don’t break my balls, I won’t break your balls.” (”Tu me casses pas les couilles, je te casse pas les couilles.”) This converstaion taking place between two women was just so bizarre that I relaxed. I went my way and they went theirs. No balls were broken.

  • The sticky cook. I had hardly recovered from the first encounter, descended to the platform and sat down, when a second one was coming my way. A man in a classy suit, tie and cloak, with a briefcase and a huge illustrated cookbook. I was scruffy, sweaty, clad in a pair of old jeans and even more jittery than before.

    I didn’t want to make conversation. He did. Greeted me. When a stranger greets me on the street, I nearly panic because, well, it might not be a stranger at all. Plus, the default metro behaviour of staring everywhere except into another traveller’s face is sort of silly, too, isn’t it? My error was the subject of my small talk. “Ah, is this a cookbook?” Not the most original of conversational turns; worse, it turned out that he was a cook by profession. Member of the National Cuisine Academy or some such. Living right next door to me.

    During the 5min metro ride, an interrogation ensued. I didn’t want to talk about myself, nor about what I do, so I talked about the internet and blogs (which is something I do do, though, but had the advantage that he didn’t know anything about it.) Emerging from “our” station, I barely managed to get away without kissing him goodbye.#[2] Disconcerting.

  • The two idiots. Idiot comes from a Greek word meaning private person: someone who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves.

    Example. I’m on the escalator down to the platform at my end of Line 14. A metro train is waiting, doors open, ready to depart. Trains leave every two minutes. So, okay, it’s not strictly necessary to catch this particular train. But I want to. In front of me there are two men, my age or a bit younger. They are comparing their iPods, PDAs, smartphones, whatever. And are proceeding leisurely from the escalator towards the train doors, blocking my path. The bell announces the imminent closing of the doors. They fine-tune their speed so that they will just manage to get in, but whoever is behind them won’t.

    Well, I did, but with a bruise on my arm. Line 14 has modern doors that can’t easily be held open. Oh, the surprised innocence on their faces when I glared daggers at them.

[1]: “Terminus. Tous les voyageurs sont invités à déscendre. Last stop. Would all passengers kindly leave the train. Terminal. Invida a todos los pasajeros a bajar.” [2]: This would be the customary parting ritual between friends who are not both male (or who are really very close, whatever their respecive sex).