Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Strapontins and mixed bedding

One of the first French sentences I learnt in France, rather than from a book, was "Ne pas utiliser les strapontins aux heures d'affluence". Mundane to a French ear, no doubt, just as we Londoners find inexplicable the amusement so many visitors to London get from "Mind the gap". A strapontin is the jump seat by the doors in the Metro, which, if used, takes up useful standing and door space (I think the wording nowadays is "En cas d'affluence", or in other words, the Metro can be crowded at any time of day).

Mundane as the instruction is, there's something irresistible about the rise and fall, the rhythm of the words. The other language lesson my generation got on foreign trains came from the three-language warnings under each window about leaning out (as you could in those days). Each of them seemed to suggest a national stereotype. In German, it sounded like a peremptory bark, from the wax-moustached General Nicht Hinauslehnen; in Italian, the world-weary Professore E Pericoloso Sporgersi merely suggested it was dangerous to lean out; but the rhythm of the French version suggested a flirtatious finger-wag from the elegant and sophisticated Mme Ne Pas Se Pencher Au Dehors.

All of which is by way of introducing the fact that standing beside a strapontin is the best position for pointing a camera lens out of the open window on a Metro train. The occasion for doing so was a ride around on lines 2 (which passes through my local station) and 6; together they form a circle round the outer arrondissements, poorer, posher and middling. More significantly, they run on elevated tracks for parts of the trip in the north-east and south-west (and just at the moment there's a replacement bus for part of line 6, which irritatingly seemed to mean I couldn't do the trip on one ticket).

Here's what you can see:



Not all official announcements are rules, however elegantly phrased (another enjoyable piece of French boilerplate is the requirement to obtempérer aux injonctions of the powers that be). Keeping your eyes open for notices from the Mairie can have its advantages, like spotting the adverts for Classique au Vert: afternoon concerts at the Parc Floral at Vincennes.

They don't cost anything extra on top of the €5 to get into the park. The park itself is pleasant enough, with woodland walks, flamboyant flowerbeds and exhibition pavilions, some of which appear a bit jaded, with elements of botanic and ecological education, but I'm not sure it's worth going out of the way to see, expecially for people with limited time in Paris. There's also a castle with a long history of its own; but one glance at the castle walls induced a touch of castle fatigue. Not even the information that Henry V (of Agincourt fame) died there and that his body was boiled for the journey back to England could tempt me inside. We used to have a family joke about someone once saying "It was a lovely funeral - we buried him with boiled ham", but I never thought it might be as....

The music on the programme was some jolly and inconsequential work by Rossini and his contemporaries, slightly disturbed not only by chattering - rather than thieving - magpies but also chattering people in the row in front of me. There was a shared moment of amusement when a child shrieked with glee at one of the period instruments cracking on a note. Eventually some distant rumbles of thunder said it was time to make a move, but here's a flavour of the event (this music, by the way, is a quintet by Antonin Reicha):
video

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