Life Stays On the Rails

photo: cafe rue du petit musc

Cool weather pushes terrace birds into this
Les Halles café.

Book Note: 'Paris In the '50's

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 8. November 1999:- Another normal week has passed in Paris. There was all sorts of weather, excluding snow and high winds. I had my semi-bucolic strolls and got caught up in the rugby fever, excited by the idea of the French team pulling a rabbit out of a nearly-empty hat.

There were an average and unexceptional number of street demonstrations, which were overshadowed by an exceptional political event - the sudden resignation of France's powerful Finance Minister - on account of a corruption investigation.

But basically, after a little lull between last week's surprise French win over New Zealand in the rugby semi-finals, and the build-up to Saturday's final match against Australia, everybody was thinking 'rugby.'

This must have been disappointing to the usual political philosophers who were ready to go on TV to talk at great length about 'historical unprecedents' concerning the minister's resignation - but I may be wrong. I missed two installments of the TV-news anyway.

I was not frittering the time away. I managed to re-contact two old press buddies, one of whom led me directly to:

'La Vie du Rail'

The headline above is the name of a weekly magazine that may be hard to find on a Parisian newsstand. For a long time it was the SNCF's 'house magazine' for its employees, but now it is privately owned. It has about 200,000 subscribers, which is not bad considering hardly anybody outside the rail business has ever heard of it.

The 'life of the rails' has played an important role in Parisian and French life since the 1840's and continues to do so with the SNCF's highly efficient suburban lines - the newly-named 'Le Transilien' for the Paris area - and the national high-speed TGV network.

The magazine has expanded its editorial scope to include all forms of urban transport, from smokeless buses tophoto: wagon lits, vie du rail driverless métro trains. But not having forgotten its roots, it also has historical look-backs - especially in this year of the métro's 100th anniversary.

For example, the métro's record year for total passengers was 1946, when the service transported 1.5 billion souls. This was partly due to lack of other forms of transport, and trains were made longer to handle the traffic.

Two boutique items: posters and model trains.

While a weekly dose of 'rails' may be too much, if you are a fan of steel wheels, a source for French lore on the subject - books, posters, videos, models, official railroad pocket watches - can be found in the magazine's neat little boutique.

This is located about three metres from the editorial offices, which are at 11. Rue de Milan, Paris 9. Métro: Liège. Open non-stop, Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 18:30. Fax.: 33 1 49 70 01 77. The Rue de Milan is a couple of blocks from the Gare Saint-Lazare, in an area which contains the headquarters of the SNCF.

Paris In the '50's

I think there is a law somewhere that says it is illegal to promote books without being a licensed and salaried book reviewer, but this is what I'm going to do anyway.

Stanley Karnow managed to wangle a place on the Paris staff of Time magazine in the '50's. As everybody knows, Mr. Henry Luce preferred pictures to words and Time wanted lots of stories with few words, so a lot of Mr. Karnow's words ended up on the 'floor' instead of in the magazine.

Luckily for us, Mr. Karnow saved his original words all these years, and they may now be found in a paperback version of the hardcover edition that was published in 1997 by Times Books of Random House.

'Paris In the Fifties' is the title and the subject of the contentsof its 20 chapters. Interested in the use of thephoto: garage doorn r piat guillotine and its operators? Mr. Karnow tracked it all down; from its invention to the obituary of the executioner, a 'Monsieur de Paris,' which was the executioner's semi-official title.

Dreams painted on a garage door in the Rue Piat in the 20th.
Continued on page 2...
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