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Metropolitain – Hop on the French metro with Andrew Martin

  • Submitted: 13th August 2023

Le métro à Paris: Andrew Martin

A unique book in many ways, this is a non-fiction title which is an ode to the Paris metro system. It’s quite a network and the stations are so unique and interesting. Have you ever been on it? Which station do you remember the most? Care to know a little of its history?

Andrew Martin is your driver today.

All aboard. Please mind the gap….

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

andrew martin

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

I think I first became interested in the Paris Metro after watching, sometime in the early 1990s, Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic thriller of 1967, Le Samouraï, which is about as close to black-and-white as a colour film can be. Alain Delon is an assassin with a minimalist aesthetic.

He inhabits a world largely pale blue and grey. He wears a grey fedora and lives in a grey flat; when looking to steal a car, he contemplates a pale blue Peugeot but settles for a grey Citroen.

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

Paris metro logoThe film features a chase scene in which Delon is pursued through the Paris Metro by various police officers, and the monochromatic nature of the film is perpetuated because the stations through which he passes are, like most Metro stations, simple white vaults, this being the house style of the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris, which built most of the network, starting in 1900.


BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

It was the elegance of these vaults that appealed to me – like the wine cellars of so many châteaux – and the fact that each vault usually encompasses two platforms and two tracks, for trains going in opposite directions. (A more companionable arrangement than the London Underground, where you have one train per tunnel – a rat-in-a-drainpipe effect.)

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

The other Metro feature that I admired is the way station entrances are often signified by huge iron plants, like great, rearing lilies of the valley, with lamps instead of flowers. These dream-like art nouveau structures, designed by Hector Guimard in the first decade of the 20th Century, signified the Metro’s aim of avoiding any ‘industrial’ quality, its commitment to being aesthetic.

Montparnasse station:

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

As I began to read to read everything in English about the Metro and (much more slowly) some of the French books, I learnt about how these basic themes were sometimes departed from, but always with great confidence and flair. For example, not all the stations are white. In the 1960s, orange tiles were applied to about twenty stations, and they survive – as redolent of the 1960s as an Afghan Coat – at Montparnasse and Charles de Gaulle Ètoile on Line 6, and at Havre-Caumartin Line 9, where the seats are also orange, and you really do feel I’ve been ‘Tangoed’.


Havre-Caumartin station (c) http://www.metroparis.

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

A more modern variation on pure whiteness involves the projection of light through coloured filters onto the vault roofs, giving a subtle Northern Lights effect. You can see this style, called Ouï-Dire, at Odéon on Line 10, where the purples, greens and golds on the roof are pleasantly Christmassy. A similar effect is created at Chateau Landon on Line 7, but no two Ouï-Dire displays are quite the same, and this is the style’s appeal: the mystery.

Odéon station:

Odéon station

Odéon station (c) Wikipedia

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

The vast majority of the Metro is subterranean, as opposed to London Underground, 57 per cent of which is on the surface, but where Metro lines come above ground they do so in spectacular fashion, especially on Lines 6 and 2.

Pont Bir Hakeim station:

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

Eastwards from Pont Bir Hakeim station, Line 6 parades along Boulevard de Grenelle on great Corinthian columns spray-painted silver, the trains about level with the swish third floor apartments on either side. Last Tango in Paris, which is a great Metro film as well as catering to other, less wholesome predilections, is punctuated with shots of Metro trains thundering along this viaduct.

Boulevard de Grenelle/La Chapelle:

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

Between Barbès Rochechouart and La Chapelle stations, Line 2 traverses the great gaping maw of the railway lines coming out of Gare du Nord station. I recommend riding this stretch (my favourite on the whole network) at night when the signal lamps of Gare du Nord are like so many blurred jewels.

Barbès Rochechouart:

BookTrail the locations in Metropolitain

Sometimes, from that vantage point, I can see a Eurostar train below me and, being a confirmed Francophile, I always congratulate myself on still being on the Metro rather than the train (perfectly nice itself, of course) that will eventually take me home to London.

I share this very fascination Andrew. One of my favourite stations: Abbesses. And that’s just the start…


BookTrail Boarding Pass: Metropolitain

Web: jimstringernovels.com

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