I type this from the Eurostar, and in fact at present I write you from within the actual Chunnel under the Manche. On my laptop computer, which has a considerably longer battery life than my last computer, I am able to write about this moment as it happens, a moment during an efficient, calm and quick trip between London and Paris, the two most important cities in Europe.
The Eurostar, as far as I’m concerned, is the premiere travel experience in this part of the world (and maybe everywhere), right down to the little details. The most incredible part of it is naturally the enormous convenience, since being linked up to Waterloo and Gare du Nord stations alleviates any auxiliary travel legs (shlepping to and from an airport) and renders air travel pointless between Paris and London. On top of that, once you get to Gare du Nord (which lies on several metro lines), the check-in process is next to nothing. You present your ticket to enter, you show your passport and you scan your luggage. Boom, boom, boom. The people who designed the Eurostar weren’t sleeping on the job; they thought to do away with the age-old ‘honor’ system of getting your tickets posted at some strange (faux-futuristic) orange box still found in most European train stations. That way, your ticket need only to be shown once, and during the actual trip there are no unnecessary train controllers wandering around and waking you up. They’ve simply been removed from the equation.
There are more and more things in the modern technological landscape that give me pause, namely in how modern and technological they are. Things like Blackberrys and radar maps on taxi dashboards cause me to say to myself, “We are in the future.” The world is wrapped up in its race toward the future, but maybe in my own little slice of experience, I am aging (or have aged) enough to sometimes allow the future to arrive, now. The future is here, as videoconferencing and predictive texting have become banal and everyday. I can content myself with certain amenities, but I don’t take them for granted.
Recently I traveled from Milan to Paris on the TGV, which all things considered took very little time. I sat in the train car, and between naps at one point I looked into the vestibule area just by the door and was struck with the strangest impression. The design of the small space was so … sci-fi, 70’s, Logan’s Run. The main doors were curved and metallic, the floor had a plasticized bubbly pattern on it and the lights were flat discs of white fluorescent light in long obelisk cut-outs above. It was ugly, no doubt. It involved carpet on the walls, as trains tend to do. But it looked like an ugly movie set, and not even a set from the past 25 years. It looked as if it were intended to be designed as such. In fact it reminded me of the Italian horror films of the 70’s and 80’s, ones which utilized the bare minimum in sets and décor.
That was only the most recent (and amusing) instance where I was reminded that we are in the future, because for better or worse this movie-set-space was part of the everyday public sector, a space on a public vehicle used in the present that looked like a shoddy vision of the future from back in the past. Where was this train going? I had trouble remembering, since at that moment I felt like a time traveler.
Other instances have been less thought-provoking, but still I am always humbled (and a little scared) by the ‘first’ world’s dizzying progress through countless versions of models, technologies, systems and services. Sometimes they serve to remind me how certain other things will always ground us or link us to the past (we still need a healthy number of sleep hours) and I am thankful for that.
I also feel as though class has been removed from this travel experience, since the ‘coach’ cabins are spacious and comfortable. First class ticket-holders do not seem to get preferential treatment, since on a train one boards at whatever time one arrives.
The service staff are friendly, the announcements are clear and concise, and the ride is generally smooth. And the prices are not painful: my last trip was purchased only 3 weeks in advance and it set me back 90 euros, round trip. I’ve seen worse. But back to the convenience of getting from central London to central Paris in just under 3 hours! The Eurostar above all is fast – we arrived right on time (as in, to the minute) and yet again I was flabbergasted and impressed. I want to make sure never to forget that, even if cars start flying before I die, this train got me from England to France in less time than it takes to watch the film Titanic.