Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Ne Mets Pas Tes Mains Sur Les Portes!

Le Lapin RATP (aka "Serge, le Lapin Rose")

Today, because my wife had some business to take care of, I took our eight-year old son to his school.  This afforded me some extra time on the RATP (the famous Metro of Paris), as his school is the opposite direction of my usual trip to work.  This time was further augmented when I connected to the suburban RER-A that carries travellers out of Paris to the ring suburbs - an announcement was made that "a cause d'un panne de signalisation a l'Auber, le traffic est fortement ralenti dans l'ensemble de la ligne..." - and thus was further delayed on my out-journey.

I'm not a public transit fetishist like many of my former friends, peers, and acquaintances in northern California.  But I do appreciate the utility in certain circumstances.

Today was one such.

Living in a city of many millions of people, one can easily appreciate the up-side to an efficient and well-run (the panne de signalisation to the side) is.

The trip from my son's school in one of the western arrondissements of the city to Rueil includes two Metro lines - a switch at Trocadero - and one RER - which one reaches at the Etoile station.

During rush hour, the trains seem either by good planning or good fortune to be in relative synchrony.  In the corridors, the foot traffic is (for a Latin country) well-co-ordinated: People headed to the RER keep to the right, those headed back to the Metro the left.  There are stair wells where one must go down ("Passage Interdit") and those which one must ascend, and the conventions are obeyed.

But what strikes me the most is the silent way people go about getting from A to B.  A friend who also is currently living in Paris on a sabbatical - another Bay area refugee of sorts - remarked about how odd it was that, in the crowded subway cars, the French are practically silent.  I had not noticed it, but in paying attention, he is correct.  People are crammed together, but save for the occasional "pardon" one hears when a fellow passenger wishes to get off (or on) the train, words are generally not exchanged.  In the tunnels between the platforms, if there is not a busker, one hears the clop, clop, clop of hard-soled shoes as the people march from train to train.  In the cars, the creaking of the breaks or the rattle of the wheels - occasionally broken by the messages one hears when there is a slow-down - are all that meets the ears.

It's an eerie feeling.  In Paris, not like, say, the New York MTA, people seem to observe that 'their' space begins and ends within themselves and that others on the train have their own space, and thus don't talk loudly on their phones or to one another.  Relative quiet is valued, a stark feeling for an American.

The whole scenario takes some getting used to, but one that I think makes a crowded, somewhat stressful environment eminently more tolerable.

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