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 2

4 March 2011 

Having just described in Part 1 of this blog entry our arrival in St-Germain-en-Laye, it would be marvelous at this point to talk about the Musée Claude Debussy.  But, like the métro that strolled under Paris and “gently hurls itself and then flies away” (merci encore, Edith), it looks like that topic will have to wait until my next post.  Beckoning now is the Paris subway system in all its magnificence.

The Paris métro (the term “métro" being an abbreviation of the name of the company that first operated the system in 1900, La Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain), transports almost five million passengers a day.  In fact, so many human bodies pass through one particular métro station that the warmth they generate is used to heat an apartment building above ground.  It’s better not to think too much about that.

Today there are sixteen lines, mostly underground, and 300 stations that handle over one-and-one-half billion passengers per year.  More than a quarter of these stations still have their iconic, cast iron entrances from the early 1900s.  These entrances with Art Nouveau, plant-inspired motifs were superbly designed by architect Hector Guimard.


édicule (kiosk) of the station Abbesses


Each station, however, is unique.  The Gare de Lyon on line 14 features a tropical garden.  The Madeleine station, also on line 14 near the famous church — l'église de la Madeleine — is decorated with a stained-glass window.  The platforms of the Bastille station on line 1 were decorated in 1989 to celebrate the bicentenary of the French Revolution.


The Bastille station has for its theme the French Revolution.



the original train station clock at Musée d'Orsay

At the Louvre Rivoli station on line 1, one can see replicas of ancient art from the Musée du Louvre.  In fact, one train station, the Gare d’Orsay, after the tracks that ran through it were placed underground (now the deepest of all the train tunnels in Paris) was ultimately converted into an art museum:  the Musée d’Orsay, devoted to French art dating from the years 1848 to 1915.

With art and trains always seeming to get mixed up, another train station, the Gare St-Lazar (SNCF; with connections to the Saint-Lazare station on lines 3, 12, 13 and 14 of the métro), inspired the artist Claude Monet to make at least ten paintings of it in 1877. One of these hangs in the Musée d'Orsay, the former train station.


the Gare St-Lazar today


Monet: La Gare St-Lazar, painting (oil on canvas), Musée d’Orsay


Stations are named after the writers Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Émile Zola, the poet Raymond Queneau, the artists Picasso and Michel-Ange (Michelangelo), the chemist/microbiologist Louis Pasteur, the writer/philosophers Voltaire and Denis Diderot, concepts like Liberté, and even music genres – Opéra.  (Technically, the last station is named after the square, which is named after the building, which is named after the art form that takes place within the building; most stations similarly are named after nearby streets or squares.)


Curt at the station Opéra
(the sign at bottom reads, “We like to take you there.”)


But there seems to be a preponderance of stations named after instances of, shall we say, temperamental behavior, for example, Alésia (named after the Battle of Alésia in 52 BC between the Romans under Julius Caesar and the Gauls under Vercingetorix in present day France), Pyramides (named after the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798 between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Mamluks in Egypt), Gare d'Austerlitz (named after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Russo-Austrian army in present day Czech Republic), Iéna (named after the Battle of Jena in 1806 between Napoleon Bonaparte and Prussia in present day Germany), Trocadéro (named after the Battle of Trocadéro in1823 when France under Louis XVIII became entangled in the Spanish Civil War), Crimée (named after the Crimean War of 1855–56, where Turkey, the United Kingdom, Piedmont, and France under Napoleon III battled Russia in present day Ukraine), Solférino (named after the Battle of Solférino in 1859, when the French under Napoleon III and the Italians battled Austria in Italy), La Défense (named after a statue that commemorates soldiers who had defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War), and Bir Hakeim (named after the Battle of Bir Hakeim in 1942 between the French and the German-Italian axis in Libya) . . . if you’ve ever studied European history, you get the idea.

As if all of these wars weren’t enough, France held its own private war, and their revolution is commemorated by stations named after the Bastille as well as two individuals who were unfortunately raccourci (shortened) in 1794 via the guillotine, Robespierre and Malesherbes.

And to practice for all of these battles, they needed the — we’re still listing métro stations here — École Militaire (Military School), and of course to take care of everybody after all of the battles, Les Invalides (hospital and a retirement home for war veterans), all the while showing gratitude for the help of George V (for United Kingdom's support for France during World War I) and Franklin Roosevelt (for US support in World War II; the recording on the train says, “Fraahnklaaahng Rooooosevelt,” his first name sounding as one might expect it would in French, but his last name following English pronunciation rules, when Roosevelt himself used the Dutch pronunciation).

So I have a theory about this tie between métro stations and rambunctious activities, which I'll describe in the next part of this entry.



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.

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