Monday, May 31, 2010

Master of Metro

On Friday, the 28th of May, 2010, I embarked on a mission that would forever change the planet. I spent 5 hours and 32 minutes riding each of Paris’ metros…in Numerical order. I entered the underground labyrinth at 11:04AM. At 4:36 PM I emerged. I saw in front of me a new world – one in which I now held a unique place as one of Paris’ most ambitious idiots with nothing better to do. As my eyes readjusted to natural sunlight and my body to life above ground, I have come to terms with this new identity, reflecting on the 1 hour and 47 minutes spent in various metro stations, the 3 hours and 45 minutes aboard Paris’ 16 metro lines, and the 3 hours and 49 minutes spent without catching so much as a glimpse of the light of day. I saw things that were disturbing, amusing, awe-inspiring, and boring. I smelled things that made me want to vomit, left me feeling light-headed, things that were confusing, out of place, and many odd combinations of familiar smells. During this brief period of reflection, I have been musing over the way to most effectively communicate this experience to you, my loyal readers. After debating between chronologically relaying my experience or crafting a list of superlatives (i.e. most heinous smell – which, by the way, would go to Chatelet for its creative re-interpretation of the classic “stale urine”) I decided on a third option. I hope that this mode of classification – “The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines” – will effectively bring you aboard the metro, underground, to join with me in this life-altering experience. Without further ado,

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 1: A Framework for Understanding Idiocy

Before I delve into the underground world of rancid smells, overly affectionate couples, flashing lights, and strange announcements, I believe it would benefit the reader to have somewhat of a framework within which to place these various experiences. After four or five post-graduation days of sitting on my duff looking on the internet for jobs I grew weary of inactivity (though it was cold and rainy for several of the days, so I probably would have stayed inside anyway) and eager to do something that mattered. One night I realized that instead of sitting around all day looking at the same websites/search engines/classified postings that hadn’t changed in the last 5 days I would ride all 16 Metro lines of Paris in order. I pulled out my metro map and began to chart my course. The next day, I completed the following voyage:

(I recommend right-clicking on the above image and opening in a new window/tab)

Beginning at Bastille, I took the 1 Line to Nation where I boarded the 2 Line. Exiting the 2 line at Pere Lachaise I took the 3 line up one stop to Gambetta where I rode the 3bis line for it’s full cycle before returning to Gambetta and re-boarding the 3 line in the opposite direction. From there, I made the switch from the 3 line to the 4 line at Reamur Sebastol and the 4 to 5 at Gare de L’est. Then I rode back towards my home metro station, Place D’italie, and changed from the 5 to 6, turned around on the 6 at St. Jacques, rode it back to the D’it (as we locals call it) in order to get on the 7. That trip was the last time during the journey that I would see the sun. I took the 7 line for what seemed like an eternity before boarding the 7bis at Louis Blanc. This was the “make or break” portion of the trip where I struggled against every fiber of my being which was shouting “you are an idiot, this is a waste of time, go home, there haven’t even been any accordion players yet.” I rode the full circle of the 7bis and was faced with a brutal decision. I got back on the 7 line knowing full well I could ride it back to the D’it and pretend I never had this awful idea or embarked on this smelly, damp, dark expedition.

I did no such thing. Reinvigorated, rising to the challenge of pushing myself beyond my former threshold of metro tolerance, I boarded the 8 at Opera, the 9 at Richelieu-Drouot, and the 10 at Michel-Ange-Auteuil. If I thought that the first ten lines were difficult, the next few connections would be the types of tests that break or forge champions. The 10 does not directly connect to the 11, nor the 11 to the 12. This would take a leap of creative brilliance – a leap which, fortuitously, I am uniquely qualified to make. I disembarked the 10 line at Cluny La Sorbonne, walk underground to the RER B at St. Michel Notre Dame and take the RER B to Chatelet to connect with the 11. I would like to point out that this did not break the numerical chain of metro rides.

Point Tommy.

I rode the 11 Line for a few stops and turned back around at Rambuteau to walk back through the massive underground universe that is Chatelet. I then rode the RER A to Auber where I walked approximately one half to three quarters of a mile, beneath the earth’s surface and through the stations Havre Caumartin and Hausman St. Lazare, passing by metros 3 and 9 and the RER E in order to arrive at St. Lazare where I began the final leg of this arduous adventure. I rode the 12 from St. Lazare to Gare Montparnasse and the 13 from Gare Montparnasse back to St. Lazare. Dazed and groggy I awaited the 14 line to arrive at St. Lazare and when it did, I was in a state of disbelief. Stepping through the automatic sliding glass doors into the obscenely bright, blue and grey themed metro train, I had done it. Victory. At station Bercy, I switched over to the 6 line to the D’it. That ride was a blur. Shortly thereafter, I was back above ground, a changed man.

I hope that this somewhat lengthy, less-than-hilarious summary of the days’ events and the course of my travels will aid in all of your enjoyment of the remaining portions of this tale. This is the story of an event which I will, in all likelihood, never attempt again, but it was something I felt must be attempted. At various points and during various activities in the days since, my loving wife has looked at me and said “I can’t believe you rode all 14 metro lines…you are an idiot.”

I can’t say that I entirely disagree.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Part 2: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Metro de Paris

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Answering a Higher Call

There are no words to describe the importance of the endeavor of which I will, today, be in pursuit. I will attempt a feat the likes of which have never been attempted or completed in the history of humanity as far as this blog is concerned. My wife says it’s both a waste of time and a silly idea. I say that there exists a fine line between stupidity and greatness and I plan to have a foot on each side. I will see sights few have seen and smell smells that few would be able to stomach. I will spend a majority of my day underground taking in every aspect of my damp, dark, odiferous surroundings. Today, beginning at the Bastille, I will ascend the Metro’s 1 Line…and ride it to the 2 Line…to the 3 Line, to the 3bis Line, back to the 3 Line and beyond until I have ridden each of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines – including 3bis and 7bis – in numerical order. But wait, my adventure will just be beginning – upon my descent from the 14 Line at Bibliotheque Fr. Mitterand I will proceed to ride all 5 RER lines that roar through the city like untamed beasts. The road will be long, the battles not easy, but this is a mission I must complete for the common good of every man, woman, and child who has ever dreamed of being a part of something bigger than themselves…and to avoid having to look for jobs.

There will be challenges to overcome, but armed with a purse full of supplies and two Master’s degrees in fields mostly unrelated to the Paris metro, I will use my god-given creative capacities for problem solving, my unsurpassed wit and wisdom, and my metro map to conquer any and all who stand between myself and my lofty goal. The 10 line doesn’t connect to the 11 line? At all? Well, my loyal readers, it will today. Today, I will not be scouring the websites of churches and non-profit agencies in search of an occupation; no: today I will be in search of a higher purpose. In the past four years I have Mastered Divinity and I have Mastered the Middle East and Islam. Today: I Master the Metro.

Wish me luck and Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: I spent 5 hours and 32 minutes on the Metro, roughly the last four hours or so entirely underground. 16 up. 16 Down. In numerical order. Success. No RER at the end though. More to come.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Night of Culture

Last Saturday, on the 83 bus, Abbey and I had an in-depth discussion regarding the amount of personal growth that I have undergone this year abroad. One minute, we were admiring my oft-mentioned shattering of preconceived gender-related behaviors such as purse-carrying and tight-jean-donning and the next we were discussing the effects of a year of intensive study of the Middle East and Islam at an international university among diverse peers on my American Protestant worldview. We even remarked on how admirable and cultured it was that we were on our way to enjoy an intriguing retrospective of the life and work of Yves St. Laurent and his impact on the world of high fashion and culture as well as society at large.

This was an activity encouraged by Paris’ Annual “Nuit des Musées” where museums are opened to the public free of charge for all those who wish to engage their intellects at a reasonable cost. Events like this, I believe, are highly beneficial to society as they encourage the populous to engage in communally centered cultural activities (it at least denies those who do not participate the fiscal excuse). As we disembarked we eagerly anticipated the life and work of Yves that we would soon immerse ourselves in, alongside our fellow Parisians. We got to the front of Le Petit Palais, but noticed that there would be a short wait to enter the exhibit.

As we walked past the first few people in the line, we realized the wait would not be as short as we had anticipated; however, it would be well worth our wait. As we sauntered past the “estimated time: 2 hours” sign, we began to do some mental math. A few moments later, we neared the Champs Elysees and came to the realization that we had not yet reached the halfway point of this line. The line went right – towards the Obelisque that Napolean was umm given by Egypt. Abbey and I turned left.

It was, after all, 21h30 (that’s how French people write 9:30PM). We watched the sun set (yes, it sets rather late) behind L’arc de Triomphe, walked hand in hand through a park and meandered around the Champs Elysees area before heading back towards our bus stop. But wait. We saw another museum that had no line. We were going to be cultural after all! We proudly walked up the stairs, received our free tickets from the gentleman with the moustache at the welcome station, and proceeded to fix our gaze and attention on the display in front of us. Neither Abbey nor I were entirely familiar with the subject of the exhibit, which made it even more exhilarating, enlightening, engaging, and several other polysyllabic words beginning with the letter ‘e’ than Abbey and I could have hoped for.

We saw all different sorts of Dinosaur poo and learned about how archaeologists are able to differentiate hardened feces from normal rocks and how they can learn about the digestive process of animals that have been extinct since the great flood when Noah kicked the poor Pachycephalosauruses…or is it Pachycephalosaurii? of his ark!


No, of course I didn’t touch the poo.

Fine. I touched old Poo. I also saw several substantial piles of poo.

And for those who don't trust me, but prefer to rely on the translator of french curators:

On the way home, Abbey and I had another in-depth discussion regarding the phenomenon that, no matter how much change one undergoes during the course of a year, there are one or two personality traits that obstinately refuse to part ways with the otherwise matured and enlightened individual.

Turns out it may take more than one year in Paris for me to cease to be amused by giant piles of poo masquerading as a scientific exhibit…it may take similarly long for me to avoid imitating said dinosaurs in public while my wife shakes her head in embarrassment…and takes a picture.

Thanks for reading