A few weeks ago, a calm Saturday afternoon turned into a frantic search. We threw clothes out of armoires, rifled through files of documents, pulled pockets inside-out, desperately looking for a single laminated card. The fact that the boyfriend had somehow misplaced his UGC/MK2 cinema pass (which allows you to see an unlimited amount of movies in most Parisian cinemas for 20 euros a month) wasn’t unusual – but as it became more and more likely that it hadn’t just been lost in the apartment, I found myself getting furious. I yelled at the boyfriend, then stormed out and went to see “Moonrise Kingdom” on my own. (Not that the boyfriend minded much -- Wes Anderson movies aren’t really his cup of tea.)
After an hour and a half or so of young love, scouts, quirkiness, and beautiful cinematography, the movie ended and I headed home. I’d already started reflecting, on my outraged way to the theater, that maybe my reaction had been a little too strong. Now I took up the thought again. I wasn’t just annoyed that the boyfriend can’t keep track of his things. And I wasn’t particularly disappointed he’d had to miss this movie, since I’m pretty sure he would have muttered “What the fuck” or something all the way through it. There was more to what I was feeling: Losing his cinema card would mean he’d have to replace it, and that would mean the bright blue card with his decade-old picture would change.
The photo on my boyfriend’s movie pass was from a time long before I knew him. His hair was short and his cheekbones were sharply defined. There was a steely look to him – maybe because he felt he had to be like that, a young man who’d never wanted to come to the big city, now forced to live in a cramped studio apartment and work unforgiving hours and overtime at a bank.
He’d signed up for the cinema pass because he got it at a discount price through said bank. But he worked so hard that he was too exhausted to take much advantage of it. One day, a co-worker told him about a good way to get motivated about it – and maybe meet girls (all the girls he’d dated lately had been ill-fated office romances, with awkward results) - a site a lot of Americans used, called Craigslist. My boyfriend went online to browse through Activity Partner ads there, hoping to find someone to practice English and to go to the movies with. Still broken-hearted after his last breakup, he wasn’t particularly looking for romance.
Across the ocean, I was getting ready to return to Paris, and putting my heart back together after the first man I loved had shattered it with the sudden destruction of a bullet fired through a china vase. I wanted something new in my life. None of the people I knew in France were big film fans, so I decided to post an ad on Craigslist Paris for someone to go to to the movies with - it would be a great way to meet people and make some new friends.
Whenever I’ve loved someone, I’ve had vertiginous moments of wondering what would have happened if he had done something just slightly differently. What if my boyfriend hadn’t gone onto Craigslist a few days after I posted my ad? We probably would have never met.
Six years ago, my boyfriend's movie pass was in his pocket as he walked towards the UGC Danton Cinema, looking carefully at the crowd out front to see if he could spot the American girl he was going to meet.
We still don’t know where the card has gone. I contacted the last movie theater we’d been to, and they didn’t have it. It hasn’t turned up in our apartment – not even in some disastrous wash load, having been deeply stuffed into a pants pocket -- a fate often met by the boyfriend’s coins, receipts, and so on. In the end, he had to get a new card, with a new picture. The card works fine, of course, and that’s the important thing – that all these years later we can still go to the movies together.
But now, just as I’ve gotten used to this change, it’s time for another one.
This spring has been a hard one for me, financially. Today, as I sat down to figure out how I could make the most of this month’s pay, I realized that I may not need my Carte Navigo.
A Carte Navigo is a subway pass. Unlike some other cities’ subway passes, you can’t just put money on it, though; you have to purchase a week, month, or year’s worth of transportation. Because I work part-time, and because I sometimes have students cancel lessons, I realized that it might just be cheaper for me to buy individual Metro tickets instead.
But while this could mean an enormous amount of money saved (by my calculations, it would cut my monthly transportation budget more or less in half), I found myself grappling for excuses to keep the card. I remember when I first got it, how I felt like it was a mark of permanence. At turnstiles, I didn’t fiddle with it like you would with a ticket, but smoothly slid it over the scanner. I was a Parisian just like any other.
Giving up the Carte Navigo won’t negate that, of course. But it’s hard to let it go. In the end, this reluctance may all be for the best: when I got home from work a few hours ago, I sat down and went back over my calculations, and realized that while it does indeed make sense for me not to use the card in certain months, most of the time it’s still a good deal. If I’d only been thinking about the money, this might frustrate me. Instead, I sort of feel relieved.
How funny to be so tied to a small rectangle of plastic. When you think about it, though, cards do sort of define us – maybe French residents more than some others. All French citiznes have a carte nationale d’identité (national identity card) that they're supposed to keep on them at all times (though they don’t always). As an immigrant, I have a carte de séjour – an ID card that shows I’m allowed to live and work here until next February (when I’ll have to get it renewed…again). French citizens and residents also have a carte vitale, a green or green-and-yellow card with a microchip that’s used to identify us as recipients of the state healthcare system.
Then, of course, there are your other cards: credit cards, office ID for some, a library card. In my wallet I also have cards from several restaurants I like, an organ donor card, a laminated card with a listing of emergency numbers (I have no idea why it’s so hard for me to remember them), my brother’s old business card, my movie pass, a discount card for our local supermarket, and even a Subway Sub Club card (helpful hint: If you’re in Paris and love Subway, you have to ask for the card and/or the little stamp things each time; I think they don’t want the entire population to know about them). Although these cards don’t say everything about who I am, they do offer a glimpse into my everyday life. And the photos on them are also memories. Here’s me as a college student on my movie pass, here’s me about four years ago, beaming over my new job and the Carte Navigo I’m about to get, here’s me a few months ago, trying to sit up straight in the photo booth for my carte de séjour picture.
In this nondescript wallet, here are the years I’ve lived, loved, and worked in Paris. When I think of it that way, I guess my reactions to the boyfriend’s lost cinema pass and giving up my Carte Navigo don’t seem so dramatic.
Of course, that these cards can so easily get lost or be put aside also reminds me that we have to let go sometimes. And sometimes, that’s not such a bad thing. The boyfriend’s new cinema pass is a really lovely shade of gray-blue, and the money I’ll save by just buying Metro tickets certain months, could be used for something really important. Change can be good - even if, like the renewal process for the carte de séjour - it isn't always easy.