Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Paris Métro Line 6

Métro Line 6 starts and finishes north of the Seine but for most of its length loops through the outer southern arrondissements flying high above the boulevards with intermittent subterranean descents. From east to west it begins underground at L’Etoile, emerging into the daylight at Passy before launching itself across the river on the Pont Bir-Hakeim. It follows a green corridor on a viaduct through the 15th. and 14th. until descending to tunnel beneath the Montparnasse district after which a second elevated section extends to Place d’Italie where it dips below ground again. Another rooftop glide leads via Quai de la Gare, recrossing the river at Pont de Bercy whence the line runs underground to Nation with only a brief burst of daylight at Bel-Air. 

Westbound train entering Bir Hakeim station

Line 6 as seen from the top of Tour Montparnasse

Aerial view of Sèvres Lecourbe station

Platforms at Quai de la Gare

Bel-Air where the train briefly surfaces

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Postcard of the Day No. 73 – Sand bathing in Japan

For anyone in search of geo-thermal excitement, the city of Beppu in the southernmost Japanese region of Kyushu is the place to visit. Hot springs bubble out of the earth in multiple locations while hydrothermal vents emit plumes of super-heated water. On the beach this heated water seeps into the volcanic sands in which the locals are happy to be all but interred in order to enjoy the therapeutic benefits on offer. If these postcards are any guide this also offers an opportunity for some serious posing – bathers display an impressive nonchalance towards the rising tide outside their field of vision. Western participants describe the agonies to be endured when arms and hands are buried and bodily itching breaks out. None of the Japanese bathers visible here have been silly enough to place themselves in that position. 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Advertising Cutaways

Cutaway drawings were valuable advertising tools in an age where dazzling the consumer with engineering complexity was an effective strategy. This glamorous Art Deco tableau from General Motors is publicising the Chicago Century of Progress exhibition in 1933-34. The GM pavilion included a functioning production line turning out Chevrolet saloons, a fact that apparently enraged Henry Ford when he heard about it – especially as Ford had chosen not to exhibit until year two (1934). By this time the two major car-makers had seen off or absorbed most of the minor players in the industry and the exhibition would become virtually a private battle-ground between GM and Ford. Below is a selection of advertising cutaways from the pages of mid-century magazines of varying degrees of complexity and ingenuity. Some of them are especially extreme in their disruption of topographical integrity and offer the diverting spectacle of human beings striding purposefully to the edge of a precipice or descending a disassembled staircase, oblivious to the hideous fates that await them. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Lion de Belfort

The world population of carved lions must rival that of the living and breathing variety. An association with nature at its most powerful and ruthless is universally desired by princes and tyrants. Despite occupying the summit of the food chain, the lion is routinely identified with superhuman courage and stamina unlimited. When the French nation was absorbing the humiliation sustained during the comprehensive military defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1870-71, the heroic resistance of the French troops and local volunteers at the Siege of Belfort was a rare instance of successful defiance and quickly became an essential national story. In the interest of salvaging some vestige of national pride the event was celebrated by commissioning a massive carved lion to adorn the rock-face outside the town of Belfort. The work was carried out by Frédéric Bartholdi and completed in 1880. Bartholdi was the foremost monumental sculptor of his age and would become world famous for his carving of the Statue of Liberty. A more modest version of the Lion of Belfort was installed in a major street intersection to the south of Montparnasse that takes its present name (Place Denfert-Rochereau) from the name of the French commanding officer at Belfort. As the access point for the Parisian Catacombs, Place Denfert-Rochereau was formerly known as Place d’Enfer. Thus it could be renamed with minimal disruption. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Postcard of the Night No. 9, Spartanburg SC

The huge water tank is an outstanding structure of Camp Croft, SC. It can be seen many miles away and is a guide to aviators, military and commercial, whose route takes them through the Piedmont section of South Carolina. It stands 106 ft. high, 90 ft. in diameter, and when full holds nearly 2½ million gallons, and is the largest water tank in the state. 

I can never see these tanks without being reminded of the lurid sequence of events that Donna Tartt orchestrated in the climax to “The Little Friend”.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

American Railroad Journey Planners

A selection of schedules from American railroads, mostly from the 1940s. Some are from minor operations, others from the giants of railroading such as Pennsylvania Railroad, Santa Fe and the New York Central. They all offer the opportunity to plan the trip of your choice and visit many out of the way destinations in the privacy of your own imagination. If you have the inclination unreasonable amounts of time are easily wasted, immersed in masses of obsolete data. Once the war was over, the great American passenger railroads were in decline as the volume of private cars on the roads rapidly expanded. The love affair with the open road went from strength to strength as the network of Interstate Highways reached deeper into the heart of the nation. Switching from war to peace-time construction enabled the aviation industry to scoop up the majority of long distance travel and the downfall of the passenger railroads was complete in 1971 when Amtrak took over the last viable remnants of a once dominant network of routes. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Postcard of the Day No. 72 – Egyptian Military Band

Last week’s trip to Egypt was not an undiluted triumph for Vladimir Putin. Whether by accident or design, he was welcomed by an Egyptian Military Band playing a blissfully off-key version of the Russian National Anthem, a performance that would not have disgraced the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Putin’s poker face is a minor masterpiece of restraint, only let down by the tiniest of facial tremors as the tune reaches its bathetic climax. It’s an excuse to display this fine postcard of another Egyptian Military Band on the march in all its finery, captioned as “Returning to Barracks after the departure of Lord Cromer”. The Egyptian people enjoyed the bracing company of Lord Cromer (Evelyn Baring) for 30 years from 1877 to 1907. As Consul-General and not known for a selfless devotion to the welfare of those less fortunate than himself, Over-Baring (as he was known to his subordinates) was the undisputed ruler of Egypt and earned a reputation for ruthless suppression of nationalist activity. He gave full expression to his contempt for the indigenous population whom he regarded as totally unworthy of governing their own affairs, revealing a singular indifference to the monuments and artefacts of the civilisation of the Pharaohs that must have been easily visible to him. It might have been a considerable relief to see the back of Lord Cromer though there was little cause for celebration as British interference in Egyptian affairs would continue in one form or another until the final withdrawal of troops in 1954. The marching bandsmen register an air of weary resignation as if they already know that they will be old men before their country is fully independent. Back in England, with typical generosity of spirit, Cromer would devote most of his twilight years to the unworthy cause of opposing female suffrage.