Paris Metro Handles

We flew back from Paris early this morning, getting up at some appalling hour to walk to Gare du Nord, RER to Charles de Gaule, fly to CPH, metro to the house, and so on. Planes, trains, and sore feet. Returning from Paris means returning to writing blog posts, which is simultaneously wonderful and nerve-wracking. But that’s Bloggywood for you.

One of the most powerful experiences for me every single time I’ve been in Paris (which is a few now) is the handles on the standard metro car, as shown in the photo. They’re these delightfully curved things with a small projecting bit to grab. You  pull/twist them upward to pop the lock of the door. Opening doors on the metro is the single most evocative thing about being in Paris, to my mind.

For one thing, it’s simply a novel form of opening a door. Not a button, not a standard-issue handle, not a doorknob – it’s unlike any other way of opening doors. The first time I was in Paris, with my parents (back in I guess the mid-nineties?) it was the sheer newness of the metro handle that amazed me. I feel like they were also weirdly taboo for me, too, like it was a deeply adult thing to open the metro car door, so I’m not sure I ever actually used one back then. I worshipped from afar.

The adultness of the metro handles is a key part of why I’ve loved them so much since. In opening the door you’re often “in charge” of letting other people on or off the train, and there’s something powerful in that. You stand there as the train draws to a stop, hand on the handle, and then when you decide to make it so, you pull the handle up and the doors slide open. The master of your domain.

In keeping with such an intense little moment of interacting with the world and others, you can use the handles in many different ways. There’s the obvious method of waiting until the train stops and then turning the handle, which leads the lock to make a pretty satisfying thunk sound before the doors open – a testament to your power. This time in Paris we saw a guy open the door from outside with pleasing flair: he flicked his briefcase up to hit the bottom of the handle up instead of using his hand. Stylish.

By far my favourite approach, though, is the world-weary traveller style in which, as the train pulls into the station, you hold the handle up in the “unlock” position. The doors won’t open until the driver flicks the master lock, but this usually happens a little before the train stops, so you end up having the doors glide soundlessly open (the lock doesn’t thunk when you open it this way) while the train is still coming to a stop. Timed well, particularly if you know the stop and which direction you need to walk when you get off, you can hold the lock up and step off the still-moving train, swiveling effortlessly to stride off the right way.

Makes me wonder how many other simple actions are so complex. Probably all of them.

27 April 2011
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