As one wanders through the Metro galleries, it is easy to forget how eventful is its history. The wrinkles are of course there in the different arty designs, or the generations of wagons and their evolving technology, in the stations that sprung up or the ones that were closed down but are still visible for the attentive eye, or the history of the city displayed in pictures in some stations. Taking the metro is a daily occasion to have a warm feeling of being surrounded by a distant history.

I thought so until I discovered the meaning of the flowers laid on the station downstairs from home. Year after year I saw them there in the month of February. They stay there many days, until the flowers fade and are cleaned away. Most of people ignored them as they rush to the platforms. I never really stopped to take a closer look as I always associated the flowers with one of the many second world war resistance heroes that are honored in town.

Wrong assumption, I discovered when I finally came to see the ceremony that caused the flowers to appear there. On the occasion, in the middle of a hundred or so people, an old gentleman explained to me that they were celebrating the bravery of former colleagues killed as a result of a police raid in the station back in 1962. These were students and union members demonstrating in favor of the independence of Algeria, and were killed by an overly repressive police action.

It is puzzling to envisage that at my doorsteps, not so long ago, a government official caused the death of its own citizens based on the opinions they held. It is even more puzzling when one learns the full story: the chief of police at that time was later found to have collaborated with the Nazis in some of the many crimes of the second world war. He was not sufficiently investigated after the war and apparently was able to find a gap where to hide in public office.

The flowers are put there by friends and families and unions to honor the memory of the demonstrators killed. I personally don't know any of them, and I don't even agree with some of the political speeches that are associated with the occasion. The times and the issue were heated of course, the context much different. As a foreigner, the easy route for me is to dismiss this horrible piece of history as the internal affairs of the locals and move on. However these flowers come back there every February.

The Metro Station downstairs is pretty much a neutral place, a simple transportation hub, serving a residential neighborhood, with the usual busy rush of people in their everyday activities, minding their own business. The comfortable lives we live lead many of us to believe that things like petty tyrants exist only in barbarian countries far away.

I see the flowers there once more and I get the uneasy feeling that the people around here, me included, can make use of this reminder that it isn't so.

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