You know, way back in the ?’70s sometime… when Mayor Robbie’s De Liew/Cather report recommending a subway system be started in Auckland, and it did not go through for some reason. Auckland was deprived of a huge asset in far more than one sense. This keeps going through my head as I ride the Paris Metro. For a little under two dollars you get this great economic, artistic, sociological, philosophical and musical experience two or more times a day.
Down you go and on one ticket and as many changes as necessary (never more than two) you get to very close to where you wish…the only small problem being sorting which direction you are facing after coming back up to ground level. It costs the same no matter how far you go or how often you change – one size fits all. Some folk ride them all day – a way of staying warm. Trains are frequent – day or night we never waited more than three minutes for the next one.
Of course, while riding, there is little clue about where you are but you get the sense by the advertisements in the stations. The touristed suburbs offer the programmes and shows at the Opera House, the Louvre and other major galleries, the wealthier suburbs advertise haute fashion available in stores and boutiques while the working class suburbs carry ads for cat food and graffiti-ed political meeting notices.
Every station carried series of ads depicting the no-nos of Metro riding being performed by humans with animal heads. There was the bull-headed man burling his way aboard despite folk trying to disembark. Another showed a young woman with head of a hen talking loudly on her cellphone, while a young man with llamas head spit out his gum. Then there is the youth vaulting the turnstile thus avoiding the use of a ticket. As tickets costs less than $2 the fact that we observed this happening several times made us wonder about the other sins.
All the stations are pretty clean and this is emphasized by the acres of white ceramic tiles everywhere. Seats in the stations must be regularly replaced and there is no hesitation sitting down in the gleaming plastic bucket shapes coloured differently for each station. These seat colours are co-ordinated immaculately with the paint used on metalwork. Someone went to a deal of trouble; the precise shade of lilac or chestnut, the exact hue of grey-green or rose pink is matched paint to plastic. Seems very French somehow.
In the working class suburb stations the clientele is racially mixed, lots of black faces and covered heads, and no beggars. It’s all white in Saint Germain and the Marais, except for the beggars.
As for the graffiti – those artists are persistent and amazingly fearless. Bombing is applied everywhere along the walls between stations. Nowhere remains blank or black. In some places the distance between the wall and the train window is about 50cm and you find yourself wondering how it was achieved given the frequency of the trains and speculating if there is a body or two down below eye level.
And the music? In the stations small orchestras of as many as twelve played Straus or Bach and jazz groups offered Brubeck. Inside the trains it was the solo artists – zither players, violinists, flutists, accordionists of course and even someone doing Edith Piaf. The musical smorgasbord was usually accompanied by a smile and proffered cap for our small change. More puzzling were the men who would call for everyone’s attention and then shout at all and sundry for the minute or two between stations. Then change trains or carriages presumably to repeat the performance. We came across several of these. As it was always delivered in rapid French we could not follow but finally someone explained that these were people who were angry about their particular situation and they feel the world needs to know what is their problem. We asked if they also were looking for money and were answered with a Gallic shrug and ‘Of course’. Seemed an odd way to go about it.
But what a great shame we cannot experience this daily in Auckland. Somehow, our almost empty buses just don’t quite have the potential.