"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paris Underground

Mark Ovenden (author of Transit Maps of the World) charts the history of the Paris Métro in Paris Underground, published by Penguin.

Pretty much anything dealing with an underground, whether abandoned tunnels, underground movements, clandestine intrigue, etc., captures my attention. So it was that I saw Mark Ovenden's Paris Underground in the travel section, quite by accident. I see the word "underground" and I pounce.

Ovenden begins the book with the five-decade period leading up to the opening of the Métro in 1900. Dozens of different proposals were looked at, and Ovenden uses "many maps of the schemes in chronological order" to examine "the root cause of half a century's prevarication over the best solution for urban transport within Paris."

One of the more interesting facts is that Paris looked to what London had done for the Underground. The Underground used a great deal of "specially adapted" steam trains, and one of the consequences was that the steam needed to be discharged. Well, in keeping with the Brits' love of bathroom humor, the discharged steam emptied into the "ill-prepared London sewers" and shot out of toilets in places like Aldgate. Hilarious. Makes you wonder if anyone's rear end suffered a hot blast.

One of the proposals, by soon-to-be inventor Jules Garnier, called for a three-tiered station (that is, three decks), which would have been impractically tall, but man would it have been a sight to see. We all know the Métro became an underground rail network, but it is a wonder to see the evolution of Paris' iconic network of rail transportation.

You'll also find dozens and dozens of beautifully reproduced color maps of the Métro, how it resembles nothing less than a circulatory system--as though Paris were but the innards of a giant in repose, and the Métro the veins, arteries and dense capillaries that feed it.

1 comment:

Ink, Pulp said...

I love books of maps. there is so much information shoved into each page. I will have to check this one out.