I guess because I’m no engineer, nor a manager, nor anything that has to do with logistics, I am marveled by the planning that goes into creating a working public system transportation.
How one line seamlessly merges with another and how it’s just so logical freaking excites me. Perhaps because I’m a woman and anything logical and rational is beyond my grasp.
Let me talk to you a little bit about the métro in Paris- ye olde subway system.
The word métro stands for Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris, it was first opened, without much fanfare in July 19th, 1900 for the World Fair. Another one of Paris’ landmarks was also built for this. I’m not even going to mention it here because you should know it. And if you don’t, I want you to question your life choices that have led you up to this point in your life, ‘k?
Now, moving on, there are 16 métro lines and yes, I have been on all of them. It’s quite fun!
There’s also the infamous RER, which is the commuter train. It’s 5 of those: A, B, C, D, E. On top of that, there’s the Transilien, which is the suburban rail, which will take you even further than the RER. They’re a total of 8.
We got 5 of those.
I said no!
We got buses! About a trillion lines.
And night buses! The Noctilien! (to which I shall dedicate an entire post).
I think we’re done now (without counting the airport shuttles).
The mastermind behind all of this is named Fulgence Bienvenüe. Growing up he had two things in mind: “why dat gotta be my name?” and “let’s build a metro!”
Today, the 4th largest station in Paris, Montparnasse-Bienvenüe, sports his name in his honor.
(And by the way, the dieresis in his last name does NOT mean his last name was “Welcome”).
Anyway, I love the metro. I feel so free. I don’t have to worry about filling up for gas, no need to worry about car keys (because you got that métro pass!).
All I really have to look out for are creepy men and pickpockets…which are both manageable.
Sometimes I feel like a little kid when two trains depart or arrive at the same time and the wagons cross each other. I don’t know why, but I just love it. I love the sound, the screeching, the little wind that gets knocked into you as those mammoth cars approach the platform.
It’s fantastic. When it runs on time, life is good. Just pop your headphones in, and enjoy the ride.
There are, of course, rules to follow: no eating, no smiling, no making eye contact, no yelling; give up your place to the elderly, disabled and pregnant women, do not sit down during rush hour so more people fit. And the people get it! No one makes a fuss (save for tourists).
I’ve also learned little tricks: if there’s nothing to hang on to, just ride it like a big skateboard. Relax, bend your knees and shift your weight. If anything else happens, just hang on to the stranger next to you. He’ll understand.
I have had my share of incidents that have turned physical, which comes as collateral from living in small spaces with a million people (who are all in a hurry, even if they’re not). I have also had to run out of wagons due to emergencies (bombs and the like). Oh, and I have been delayed. Oh yes. Inside the wagon, waiting outside on the platform.
As with all things, though, there are some downsides to common transport:
It’s super popular to just jump into the tracks of the metro. It’s an easy, fast way to just…get out of Paris.
Then again, one becomes desensitized at the thought that, well, that was it for someone. So you’re there (and this usually happens when you’re in a hurry) and you’re like, “Bro, did you really have to jump now? I have to meet my friends for drinks. Ugh. Selfish.”
Short of the long is you just know whenever the sound of a micrphone getting picked up starts on the wagon, something has just occurred.
There are also two ways to measure time in Paris: a clock, and metro time. A regular minute is 60 seconds. A metro minute is anywhere from 15 seconds to 20 minutes. The screen may flash a “02” for the next train but you just know it’s anyone’s guess.
Sometimes it goes from “04” to a flashing “00”, and the train magically pops out from your left. Other times, you get there and it’s at “07”, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, the train never comes at all. Lolwut?
As with most things in Paris, you encounter art in the metro. Stations are inspired by the Art Nouveau movement, and each one has its own personality.
There are musicians, dancers, singers, beggars.
Sometimes it’s someone with a karaoke track and all you feel like doing is run out of the moving vehicle.
But sometimes, though, you stumble upon gold:
It’s here where I find myself loving the city. Loving its culture, loving its art, loving all the freedom it has provided me, even if it has been at the cost of big sacrifices.