ST PANCRAS STATION, 07h15 — Now on board the Eurostar, just before it takes off for Paris. I’d gotten here about an hour before, which is just an indication of my paranoia about scheduled modes of transport: I tend to arrive far too early, a bad habit whose sole virtue is that it’s better than arriving too late.
The extra time, though, did give me a chance to ponder the issue of high-speed public transport and why it won’t work in central Canada.
One of the nice things about London is that I can visit most places through a combination of Tube and walking, in spite of the medieval street layout. That’s just to show how good public transport should be; you can move within the city via fixed link, without the hassle of tangling with vehicular traffic which is the main drawback of the bus, dedicated lanes notwithstanding. And the real point of high-speed rail is that a traveler should be able to go from one urban centre to another, without needing to resort to a road.. And this works best when the stations for high-speed are located in the downtown area.
For Toronto and Montreal, this isn’t a problem. Even Quebec City has its Via rail terminal close to downtown. Ottawa’s Via terminal, on the other hand, is out in the suburbs, with only inefficient buses connecting the train rider to downtown. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon, because any attempt to install rail lines will have the local merchants up in arms over lost business due to constriction.
Michael Ignatieff can make all the announcements he likes about a new “national dream” of high-speed rail in Canada. But it’s not going to work unless he gets cooperation from local urban pols. Who among us believes that’s going to happen?
It’s not the original, of course; not the one that Sylvia Beach founded, that sustained such writers as Joyce and Hemingway. That one disappeared with the Nazi occupation of Paris. But the owners of this incarnation have kept the eccentric spirit of the original alive, complete with upper floor piano, and workstations with manual typewriters. I’m not entirely sure if they still allow students to sleep on its stacks, although I did notice a cot beside the piano.
The big assumption that travel book publishers seem to make about people spending only one day in Paris, is that two things are must-sees: the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre, both of which apparently have long lineups on Saturdays. You may, then, colour me as atypical; there aren’t that many things in Paris that I absolutely had to visit, apart from this used bookstore which is the spiritual descendant of one of my favorite authors’ hangouts.
That’s not to say that I didn’t do typical things of a tourist. I did, for example, have a nice outdoor lunch at a cafe: a Nicoise-style potato salad with arugula, artichokes, tomato and egg with an anchovy-based dressing, with a nice Chardonnay and an espresso. Definitely a French dish that I’ll remember. And I paid a visit to the ruins underneath Notre Dame Cathedral.
I haven’t quite figured out how the rest of my day should go, but I figure the best thing to do for now is to let my tour guides be those things at the end of my legs.
ON BOARD EUROSTAR, 21h10: As it turns out, the rest of my day turned into a busman’s holiday. I jumped into a metro, rode a couple of stops, and wound up at the Musee du Legion d’honor, which is an honours and awards hall of fame arrangement. It was much like the Churchill War Rooms, in that you were given a remote control handset and, depending on the buttons you pressed, got information on each display. It kept me busy until the end of the afternoon.
Now, having had a bit of time to reflect on my day, I can understand why some of my relatives kept telling me that one day was really not enough to really get to know Paris. And true, if I had the inclination to save enough money for another European adventure, I’d say Paris would be worth another, longer visit.
But I’ve walked enough of her streets, eaten enough of her meals, and brought away enough memories that, if I never set foot in France again, and my sister’s children ask me, I can tell them with an honest heart, “Yes, I have been in Paris.”
Tomorrow: a well-rested morning, with a visit to the British Museum to check out, at my local SCA group’s behest, some sort of horde. Plus, if I can manage it, a return visit to the house of a certain deerstalkered detective . . .