After all these years, one of my most vivid memories of Paris is listening to a beautiful, black street performer sing Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain in the caverns of Le Métro, the underground railroad. Her strong voice soared like an angel. Holy vibrations of her guitar captured the spirit of the city...
A celebration of great glory, Le Métro opened on this day in 1900 in time for the Paris World Fair. Construction of the 6.25-mile (10-km) Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris began in 1898 and the original line ran from Porte de Vincennes to Porte Maillot.
At the heart of this modern miracle was chief engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe (1852-1936), lovingly called "Father Metro" by his countrymen. With innovation and passion, Bienvenüe coordinated the tunnel digging and found solutions to the mind-boggling challenges of bringing the system to the large City of Lights.
"To breathe Paris," said writer Victor Hugo, "is to preserve one's soul."
Breathing life into Le Métro, architect Hector Guimard (1867-1942) designed the wrought-iron entrance gates in art nouveau with elegant grandeur. Curved leaves, flowers, and vegetables in green iron, glazed lava, and glass, emphasizing doorways, railings... and the imagination.
Guimard said, "For construction, do not the branches of the trees, the stems, by turn rigid and undulating, furnish us with models?"
French history and culture resonate in the subway's theme-based stations. The mural at the Bastille station commemorates the start of the Revolution. There are Rodin replicas at the Varenne station. And the marble-walled Louvre station at Rue de Rivoli abounds with art from the museum above.
Each year, billions ride the clean, fast Métro, a model of efficiency with 380 stations and over 131 miles of track. Rubber wheels make for a ride so quiet that the talented buskers can fill the tunnels with their music.
"Riding the metro is thus a journey taken in accompanied solitude, a voyage through space and through a kind of geographically mapped collective unconscious," said writer John Sears.
You can create great glory.