Paris Metro Map

Seine steps Boulevard and cafe

It doesn’t matter much which boulevard you choose, in this homogeneous city, cracked open by Hausmann to provide fields of fire in case of insurrection; the result was to so unite it that now a boulevard would be the natural centre of insurrection – the lion has eaten the trainer. The smartest boulevards have trees, and don’t go anywhere; my favourite is an exception, the boulevard Sebastopol, which carves its way north like a Parisian Farringdon Street, but with much more elegance, and ends in the Gare de l’Est, beyond which are wild beasts in the banlieue. But every boulevard has its cafes, nests of insurgence: broad awnings, tables that rarely fill up completely, always a place to sit down and watch the world go by. The basic vacuity of the avenues turns out to be an entrance ticket to liberation. For the cafe-dweller, quietly sipping Slavia or Kronenbourg, it seems to be all freedom and no rules. The rules, in fact, have been forgotten, and now there are just people, enjoying the amplitude and oblivious of nineteenth-century military techniques. Hard luck, Baron H.: game, set and match to the rabble.

Paris Metro Map Photo Gallery

The Metro

The London Underground was begun in 1863 and keeps almost entirely the character given it by Frank Pick and his designers in the 1930s – not ignoble, but impersonal to something near a fault. The first Metro was not opened until 1900, at a time when the city was utterly sure of itself; sure enough to allow Art Nouveau to writhe all over the details because the tense and vibrant spirit behind it was the city’s own. Hence Guimard’s drooping-flower entrances, ostentatiously signed, which might seem outre in themselves, always fit into the particular part of Paris, and in fact seem to thrive on odd relationships, like the raucous background along the boulevard de Clichy, or the restrained comparison of art with nature at Tuileries, where the shapes are echoed in the first trees of the garden. But style is also, with less effusion and greater force, in the Metro carriages themselves, and the trustworthy maroon station seats, yards long. That the ladies who punch tickets seem like those who knitted at the guillotine is no accident; the underground revolutionary spirit of Paris is here provided with a highly appropriate home. The decoration and equipment is slowly being modernized and de-sexed to look like a kind of underground Orly. A pity.

Paris Map Bastille


Abandon thoughts of stamped-out bits of tin. These sonorous cylinders are the turn of the century at its best; enough Art Nouveau touches to give a distinctive style, enough common sense to keep the flourishes on leash. The yellow sides have the name of the stop in inscrutable lettering; the circular ends carry the line-numbers on a coloured background, diagonally yellow and red. The whole lot has a bronze frame with curlicues: rich, tough, and effective.

Metro De Paris Map

Metro station names

The French genius for letting-alone at its strongest. Most Metro stations are named after neighbouring streets, and some of them are double-named afer intersections of streets. From this simple situation flows much poetry – obscure yet direct, like Rimbaud. What administrator could invent a poetic conjunction as rich as Sevres-Babylone? – yet these are no more than street names, taken over for convenience’s sake. There is also Montparnasse-Bienvenue, Michel Ange-Auteuil, with visions of the Last Judgement all over someone’s drawing-room, and Marcadet-Poissonniers which considering the area is like wallpapering over the cracks in a rickety building (though with what an air). And above all, Reaumur-Sebastopol, a mystical conjunction which suggests all the colossal range of this city, from technology to White Russia. What price Manor House and Baron’s Court?

The back of a bus

The buses with the open rear platforms are now thirty years old and cannot last much longer. While they do, it is worth finding one and riding to the end of the line gazing out from the rail whilst the city slips past backwards. Except at rush hour, there is plenty of room, and the feeling of command provided by this unexpected quarter-deck is amazing. Just a matter of a few feet and a bit of elbow room to observe the continual tragi-comedy that makes up Paris traffic: one of the cheapest luxuries in the city.

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