For many, perhaps most, the Paris metro is a necessary evil. It isn’t the cleanest place in the world, it tends to catch people at their most irritable and it’s home to a very specific suite of smells. I teach my students not to make extended eye contact in the metro, to avoid unintentionally sending the wrong message (aggressive or sensual alike). Cramming to fit into a metro carriage at peak hour is an inevitable low-light of Parisian life.
But though the above are standard, I think I can safely say I’ve experienced the worst the metro has to offer.
Once, in 2007, a man kicked me down an entire flight of stairs at the entrance to Opéra, for the sin of accidentally making eye contact (hence the advice I now give to students). I didn’t manage to catch the railing in time, though I did succeed in not crying. (The same cannot be said for the dear friend who was with me at the time, and who didn’t know how to process what she’d just witnessed.) Then in 2011, I narrowly escaped an arc of urine that was being expelled across the platform by a similar kind of gentleman, late one Friday night.
But despite these experiences, I still think the Paris metro is great. You never have to walk more than a couple of hundred metres to find a metro stop in Paris, trains come every 2-4 minutes, they service the entire city and they run until after midnight. And though many metro stops are not spaces you would want to linger in, some are museums in themselves.
At the ‘Europe’ stop on the line 3, you will find video installations of contemporary art. ‘Arts et Métiers’ on the line 11 is decked out like the inside of a submarine, perhaps in a nod to Jules Verne and the science and innovation museum housed nearby. At ‘Varenne’ on the line 10, the closest stop to the Musée Rodin, a full-sized bronze of the sculptor’s famous portrait of Balzac commands attention in the middle of the platform, while a reproduction of Le Penseur contemplates life near the entrance.
But the finest musée-métro in Paris would have to be Louvre-Rivoli on the line 1. Though the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre stop is the closest to the museum itself, it’s worth taking the time to admire the reproductions of Louvre sculptures encased in glass along the station’s platforms. From a bust of Marie Antoinette to models of classical Greek sculptures, the station will keep you entertained while waiting for the train. And if you’re lucky, you won’t even get pushed or urinated on in the process.
Xx la Muséophile