A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Le Métro de Paris Part 1

4 March 2011 

Des escaliers mécaniques,
Portillons automatiques,
Couloirs de correspondance,
Heures de pointe et d'affluence,
Portières en mosaïque,
Labyrinthe fantastique
Et toujours, en courant,
Des gens qui vont et viennent
Et encore, en courant,
Les mêmes gens qui reviennent
Et le métro qui flânait sous Paris
Doucement s'élance et puis s'envole,
S'envole sur les toits de Paris.
Automatic wickets,
Correspondence corridors,
Rush hours and crowds,
Mosaic doors,
Fantastic labyrinth
And always, while running,
People that go and come
And again, while running,
The same people that return
And the subway that strolled under Paris
Gently hurls itself and then flies away,
Flies away on the roofs of Paris.

Le Métro de Paris, as sung by Edith Piaf



In my last post (Ravel and Le Belvédère), I described how we had reached Montfort-l’Amaury by train, intimating that it was an intricate maneuver.  I should point out that to get anywhere within Paris, the métro is extremely easy and often the fastest way to take; it is only when one tries to reach a faubourg (suburb) — actually, two suburbs in one day in our case — that it becomes challenging.

Due to the fact that both the Ravel and Debussy museums are located outside Paris, we had even considered renting a car for this day (see Driving in France), but as with the proverbial mountain, we chose the métro — because it is there.  And, as with mountaineering, expeditions such as these require the ability to endure long periods of tedium, which in turn may be punctuated by brief moments of angst and intense exertion.

To set the stage: having just left the Maison-musée de Maurice Ravel, we now needed to get from one point located southwest of Paris (Montfort-l’Amaury) to another directly west of the city (Saint-Germain-en-Laye).

If we were traveling by car, this would take, oh, maybe fifteen minutes.

However, the only way to accomplish this via rapid transit — perhaps I should rephrase this:  the simplest way (because there were many substantially more convoluted ways) — was to take an SNCF train from Montfort-l’Amaury back to Gare Montparnasse in the center of Paris — sort of like using the gravitational force of a large planet to hurl us off in space in another direction — this taking 37 minutes, and having 13 minutes to catch a métro (Line 6) to Charles de Gaulle-Étoile (I should note here that walking distances underground between train and métro stations are vast) taking 13 minutes and then having 5 minutes (again, walking underground) to catch an RER train to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, taking 23 minutes, the entire journey, if successful, taking 91 minutes.  (Whew.)

If I may continue the Jupiter fly-by analogy, connecting the three transit systems would take split-second timing; however, according to the website of the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), which seems to know everything, it could be done.

As we stood on the platform,  the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. Absolutely no one else was around.  We waited.  After a while, a few other people collected on the platform.  But circumstances did not bode well when our train into Paris finally arrived — late — at Montfort-l’Amaury.  Looking at my watch, I re-calculated our transfer time to be four minutes now, as opposed to the original 13 minutes.  I informed Colleen:  “Be ready to run.”

We boarded the train and enjoyed the scenery of the Île de France, eventually crossing the Seine and traveling underground.  When we reached Gare Montparnasse with leg muscles tensed, we bolted out the doors onto the quai and dashed for the exit leading to the métro.  We ran down one corridor and then another, calling out to each other information on signs that narrowed the criteria determining the desired passage (one must not only choose the right line, but the right end-point of that line in order to go in the right direction).  We ran through yet more tunnels and bounded up the stairs, all the while maneuvering through an obstacle course of human bodies moving in every direction.  We at last jumped down the steps onto the platform of line 6 and — relieved that the train was still there — slipped into the doors just before they closed.

This was only the first correspondance.  As the train began to move, we held onto the pole in the center of the car, both panting from our sprint.  It being an autumn month, we were dressed in layers in order to be prepared for weather from cold to warm. I noticed that I was beginning to perspire under my shirt/sweater/scarf/jacket.  But being wedged into the métro with tout le monde made it impossible to start peeling layers now.  Besides, we had another correspondance to go, and carrying my jacket and sweater instead of wearing them would make me less aerodynamic.


Riding the métro can sometimes be intense.


At the Charles de Gaulle-Étoile stop we again shot out of the doors onto the platform and scrambled for the exit leading to the RER.  Through couloir after couloir we ran, calling out to each other information on signs, hearing the familiar Des bruits de pas qui résonnent / Dans les couloirs monotones — "Noises of footsteps that resound / In the monotonous corridors," to quote Edith Piaf again.  At one point I remember thinking, “How economical — just have us run underground all the way to the suburbs!”

As with the previous train, we had just boarded when the doors closed.  The difference this time, heureusement, was that this particular train was going out to the suburbs in the mid-afternoon and was half empty.  We sat down and exhaled.

I was grateful that now that I could remove strata of autumnal wrappings, which I did in 3/4 time while an accordion player serenaded us.  Left-sleeve-first . . . then-the-right . . . pull-sweat-er . . . o’er-the-head . . .

When we arrived in St-Germain-en-Laye, we ascended once again to the earth’s surface and blinked in the sunlight.



The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: