Tuesday, February 28, 2012

As I mentioned previously, I’ve noticed that things can go a little slower here - as far as meals go, at least. Yet, everything speeds up when you descend into a metro tunnel. It’s like an entirely different world. The temperature plummets, the air becomes stale, and the machine spits out a ticket. Suddenly, I'm in a part of Paris that’s a lot different than the looming buildings and graceful statues I've seen everywhere else.

That being said, it's an incredibly effective system. There are two different lines - one that stays within the city limits, and the RER, which travels outside of the city to the suburbs. The entrances to the stations vary quite a bit, but most of them have quirky architecture and look like this:

They're all different, though - for example, a few have an older design:

It's not too hard to find the correct line once one is inside - there are maps everywhere, and tables with estimated arrival times.
The RER trains look like this - and the regular trains are pretty much the same thing, but with only one floor.

RER trains are especially cool because they're nearly silent. Most trains squeal as they take off and stop, while the sound of the RER is more like the sound of a giant exhale. I guess that's a cool way to think of the trains - the lines run all over the place, kind of like veins that push trains through with a slightly erratic pulse.

I guess you can tell that I need some sleep.

The most interesting part is the fact that each of the stations are completely different. Some are tiled; some are simply chunks of cement. A few have multicolored, round chairs that remind me of the painfully bright Easter eggs I used to dye as a child; some have dull, silvery benches. Also, depending on the time of day, the people that fill these stations are interesting. On some particularly hellish days, the stations are filled with people who pack themselves into the trains like sardines, compelling me to grip my belongings so firmly that my knuckles turn white. On these occasions, the pea coats and scarves all blend together to create a mass of people that flows in and out of the various tunnels.

At times with lighter traffic, though, it's easier to notice the individual people. The sans-abris, homeless people, washing their few belongings in the rainwater dripping from one of the entrances. The woman that curses when she realizes she's missing an earring; the man with a weathered face that sits next to me. The jolly gypsy playing a trumpet (a video of whom will be uploaded when the internet gets better!); the children, clad with thick-framed glasses and coats that swallow them as they babble unintelligible French syllables.

The metro, when not stressful, is a fascinating place!

Friday, February 24, 2012

            The part I love the most about being in charge of this part of the blog is how open-ended the category is. “Paris Underground” will have some very obvious features – the metro, the underground “Crypte” museum – but underground can also mean a fascinating movement exploring new forms of lifestyle and art. 
            I was actually considering finding some way to write a “Paris Underground” blog entry when we were on the plane, because I thought the irony would be fabulous. Yet, there is little underground Parisian culture noticeable on any American plane, which I realized when the safety video showed at the beginning of the flight featured words in English only, spoken by a man with one of the thickest, Southern drawls I’ve ever heard.  Plus, I was too excited to really focus on anything, and all I really wanted to do was stare out of the window at the stars, pressing my nose onto the glass like a dog trapped in a hot parking lot in the middle of summer.
            But I digress!
            My pictures are kind of all over the place, so I’ll be posting a lot more once I get those figured out. In the meantime, though I just wanted to introduce this section. I also kind of wanted to mention two of the things I see and enjoy here. I don’t know if it counts as “underground culture,” but it’s definitely culture. Time seems to slow down here – though it’s still a bustling city, people take their time. It’s been so nice to spend hours eating meals, just getting to know everyone in our group. Also, I’m noticing a sort of flowing rhythm to the French language. I’m still kind of pitiful when it comes to speaking and understanding, but I’m definitely getting better. Eventually – hopefully – I’ll get to the point where people here don’t mercifully switch back to English for me after I attempt to order petit déjeuner (breakfast).
Oh yeah, and a random picture of a metro stop - the only one I can seem to find right now.

 More to come!