Getting tickets to the Paris ballet is a lesson in the intricacies of achieving tasks in a society where the answer is always “C’est pas possible” (That’s impossible) but where in fact there is always a way around obstacles. When I studied abroad I failed repeatedly in going to the ballet because I had not learned this art. I now know that you have to go on line at a specific time, or show up hours early on a specific morning, or wait in a long line outside a specific door. Tickets go on sale at different locations, venues, and times depending on the price, and thus I found myself up early on Monday morning to try to obtain tickets for Bayadère. I went online the first day they opened sales, but already all the tickets were gone as “members” (one must be invited to be a member) can claim them weeks earlier. I knew that I had to be there on the day that the final round of tickets went on sale. These would be the tickets where you fold yourself into a human pretzel to fit in the seat and you are high enough that at least if the chandelier fell Phantom of the Opera Style, you would have nothing to fear.
I arrived at the back entrance of the opera on Rue de Scribe at 9:30, one hour before the ticket office even opened, and already the line wrapped all around the building. Now obviously, there are not enough seats with decent visibility for everyone. This does not sway the Parisian. Waiting in line in Paris is a battle of wills and a lesson in psychological warfare. It begins subtly and full of goodwill. The people around you start chatting about how someone should hold places while the others get coffee. Then the pessimistic lamentations start: “Franchement, c’est pas possible, ce queue.” (Frankly, this line is ridiculous.) Next the horror stories set in as the rumor begins to circulate that the person in the front of the line came in on the first metro. People begin to ask if the line is always this bad. As someone who has done the line thing a couple times, I contribute to the negativity in which everyone is reveling by declaring that the line is often bad, but not (pause for the Parisian “Beh . . . ” with frustrated head shake) this bad. The goal of course, is to drive others from the line.
But a Parisian waiting in a line is an immovable object. I have seen them wait stubbornly beside a sign that says a bus is not running that day without a thought of budging. They love letting all their neighbors know that the wait is futile and the end is hopeless but no matter what, they will not leave that line. For all their doom and gloom, the idea that they will be ultimately denied whatever they are waiting for doesn’t occur. After all, they are Parisians. No tickets will be left by the time we reach the window, they are all saying and I know that they are right, but I just can’t leave the line, just as none of them would dream of budging. One pulls out a foldable chair, another a copy of a Camus novel. They are ready to wait it out, all the while discouraging all around them to abandon ship. As I said, I have done this before and succeeded. But this time, they got the best of me. After an hour or more we had just entered the building and I could see the line snaking all around the inner lower section. As I had to meet a friend before noon, I finally had to cut my losses and go. My decision was accepted with choruses of regrets and condolences from my new friends/ enemies who assured me that the wait was after all hopeless. But not a one followed me as I left. Instead their smiles told me that they were just one person closer to victory.