Rain. River. November. On the long-awaited day that Paris came closer to London.
As I step on to the platform under a damp grey sky, there’s a farewell party in full swing around the station.
After thirteen years, the last Eurostar will depart here in a few hours’ time. And in the morning, when the first train arrives at a gleaming new St Pancras across the Thames, Paris will be just two hours and fifteen rail minutes from London.
‘Fog in the Channel – Continent Isolated’. So read the famous newspaper headline of yore. Not any more. This rapprochement is almost complete.
But right to the end it seems we’re keeping up this rivalry, and our wry sense of humour to match.
The last slow train to Paris leaves from Waterloo, of course – the station named after Wellington’s victory over France. And the time of tonight’s last Eurostar ?
Tactfully set for 1812 – just a gentle reminder of Moscow, surely, and Napoleon’s frozen retreat.
I chuckle my way into the underpass and the warren of tunnels beyond. So much for the Entente Cordiale. Joined by the railway we may be, but gently wary of each other we’ll remain a little while longer.
There’s a murky daylight rushing clouds along the South Bank this afternoon. Another trip to Tate Modern, but it’s a different season now, and a different kind of day.
The puddles shimmer dimly underfoot. The turn of an incoming tide is corrugating the river at Blackfriars, whilst beside me the last leaves are clinging grimly against the breeze, holding off the winter for as long as theydare. Yellow fighting grey for a last corner of sky.
Rain. River. November. It’s almost time to dream of warm Provençal evenings, and hot English stew. I head indoors, under Tate Modern’s tallest of chimneys.
The cool of the great turbine hall seems strangely warmer today. Maybe there’s heat coming through this crack in the Earth ? For that’s the latest exhibit here – a long narrow chasm, commanding respect and attention as it rips across the entire museum floor.
The crack is more jagged than wide, to be honest, but it’s surprisingly deep. So how was it made ? It’s hard to imagine.
Some visitors tripped over the brink when it first opened, and so there are fluorescent safety marshals stationed not far away now, wearing bright yellow jackets to keep us from harm.
I stop to watch the crowds of people, all wandering patiently along this simple fault line set into the concrete, following right to its conclusion.
They’re looking for where this gap closes, and when its madness can end.
And suddenly it strikes me that geology cuts in unlikely places. A crack in the concrete here, a narrow strip of sea cut into chalk there. A tunnel twohundred years in the planning. Two cities and two nations, spanning forty kilometres of unbridgeable water with five hundred of steel.
I head out into the November afternoon. It’s just another autumn day, with ruffled tide, rippling puddles and grey sky above the water. And I walk back along the river, tracking this great dream as it finally comes true.
142. South Bank spring – Tate Modern, London
167. Paris – Ville de lumière
36. The Embankment, inspiration and reality
56. Paris – a view from the Champs de Mars
85. A homage to London’s Gherkin
141. A winter sky and green and blue – Hyde Park, London
Whoah . . . what’s with the crack on the floor of the Tate Roads? Is this a natural pheonomenon or another example of modern art?
I love this time of year – there’s something refreshing about autumn’s purge and the cleansing chill of winter. Great running weather, too.
Thanks, Sweder. It’s a work of art, this crack, entitled Shibboleth by Doris Salcedo from Bogotá, Colombia.
Here’s an extract from the Tate website:
‘By making the floor the principal focus of her project, Salcedo dramatically shifts our perception of the Turbine Hall’s architecture, subtly subverting its claims to monumentality and grandeur. Shibboleth asks questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built.’ …
… ‘In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.’
And if you read my piece above, that’s exactly what I said. I think.
It’s interesting. Last month we rode the Eurostar to Paris and we saw the crack at the Tate Modern.
Loved the crack, not so much Paris.
Welcome, Rose. Glad you enjoyed Tate Modern.
As for Paris, I wonder if it may be something of an acquired taste – there’s a certain indifference about the place which the first-time visitor could all too easily misinterpret as arrogance.
The city’s standards of customer service won’t win too many North American awards, for sure. But once you’ve been there a few times, it’s much easier to appreciate it more on its own terms.
Paris doesn’t have to try too hard. It just is how it is. And when you come back, it’s pretty much exactly how you left it. That’s the joy – since the city rewards nostalgic rediscovery.
London has changed enormously over the past decade (for the better, in my opinion). But to me, Paris remains much more how it always has been.
It’ll be interesting to see if Monsieur Sarkozy’s planned reforms will change the way that Paris feels. That’s if he can actually reform the place at all.
Should that be ‘loved the craic’, Rose?
Be assured there ‘s a craic to be had in Paris, but as Roads says it may take a while to find it. Paris revealed herself to me one rainy afternoon as I sheltered, in good company, under the awnings of the cafes in Monmartre, watching the world float by through the bottom of a red-tinted wine glass.
I love the crack !!! I saw it in 2006 with some special needs school children — they found the crack very thought-provoking.
Thanks, Donna. Simple idea — stunning realisation, I agree.