Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Paris to London by train in two hours

In London a few weeks ago, I was greatly impressed by the splendid transformation of the old St Pancras station, which will soon replace Waterloo [after 14 November] as the terminus of the Eurostar link with the Continent.

The modern rail section between the English Channel and London is referred to as High Speed 1, because it is Britain's first line capable of supporting high-speed trains of the kind that have been crisscrossing France regularly for years. This morning, a train pulverized the speed record between Paris and London. Two hours and three minutes! These two great cities are so totally different in ambience and style that it will be an amazing thrill to be able to leave one and set foot in the other a couple of hours later.

PS When I reread that last sentence I've written, I find it so trite and obvious that it almost deserves to be classed as what the French call a lapalissade. Monsieur de la Palice used to make declarations of the following kind: "No more than an hour before she died, the poor lady was perfectly alive!" A good modern example, from John Howard's Texan mate: "I think we agree: the past is over."


  1. I don't think that your last sentence is really a lapalissade, there is some truth in it (of course, there is some truth in lapalissades, but this is another issue).

    You are right - these towns are very different and I think two hours fifteen is a very short time to get prepared to new surroundings, language, culture...

    Must be quite surprising for someone who travels for the first time from one town to the other.

    Sometimes I need about two hours to drive from one end of Paris to another...

  2. Strictly speaking, a lapalissade is the kind of declaration that logicians refer to as a truism; that's to say, a proposition that states nothing more than what is designated by its terms. So, a pure example would be something such as: "If he's not present, he's absent." But people use the word lapalissade to designate declarations that are so obvious that there's hardly a need to express them. By chance, this morning's rare media news on last night's opening of the Rugby World Cup [rare because of a journalistic boycott] provides us with a good example of this loose use of the word lapalissade. The trainer Bernard Laporte was asked to express his reactions to the defeat of France by Argentina: "Nous sommes extrêmement déçus. C'est une lapalissade." [We're extremely disappointed. That's a lapalissade.]

    Throughout my recent short visit to London, I had the constant impression of seeing the city through Disneyland glasses, as a series of stark but worn-out visual clichés: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, etc. Besides, I found it physically exhausting to wander through the crowded streets, and get around on the noisy tube network. The words of Samuel Johnson, talking to James Boswell, were going through my mind non-stop: "Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." At times, I was anguished by the thought that my London fatigue, combined with my addiction to the beautiful quiet wilderness of my Gamone homeplace, might indeed indicate that I was possibly "tired of life".

    For me, the London/Paris dichotomy dates from a series of plane trips between the two capitals in 1963, paid for by IBM in Paris, who were determined to enable me to obtain a French work permit from the Australian embassy in London... because they needed my services as an experienced computer programmer. Even then, every time I returned from the bustle of London, I had the impression that Paris was a calm and cultivated haven... probably because I used to live in tiny old hotels in the Latin Quarter, while working in a back street called the Cité du Retiro, between the Elysées Palace and the Madeleine. The other day, after writing that London and Paris are "totally different in ambience and style", I had the sudden impression that my remark was tritely obvious.