22 September 2007
A Place, Not a Station, on a Sunday
We took the No. 63 bus for Gare de Lyon on a gray Sunday that threatened rain.
What better day to visit a train station that connects Paris to the sun-drenched south of France?
A few years earlier, the south was palpable as we boarded a train for Cahors at Gare d’Austerlitz just across the Seine. With each stop along the five-and-one-half-hour route, the warmth and sunshine and perfumes of the Midi grew stronger: Orleans…Vierzon...Chateauroux…Limoges…Brive.
But on this particular overcast day, we were not boarding a train, simply taking photographs, hoping to capture the grandeur of a legendary departure point that MFK Fisher described as “not a station but a place.”
Perhaps the excitement of boarding a train for a vacation is the key. Because to me the Gare de Lyon felt flat. The much-less-elegant Austerlitz, on the other hand, promised sun and vineyards and the Pyrenees and a breeze from Spain.
It is, to be sure, far more dramatic than Austerlitz, with the famous restaurant, Le Train Bleu, overlooking the departure platforms. Its exterior is more commanding, its interior is more elegant.
Here is where Le Mistral opened its doors to disgorge passengers from the Cote d’Azur and take on others who sought the refuge from the city along the fabled southern coast: Scott and Zelda, and the Murrays, Sara and Gerald, their ex-pat friends, escaping crowded Paris.
I yearned to board a train myself – next time! Next time! This time we had to be satisfied with photographs.
We did not eat at the Train Bleu, promising ourselves a return visit. We did not make it back, but since we plan to book hotel rooms near the gare on our next visit, we will have another chance to dine in the restaurant’s luxury and excess.
With Paris there must always be a next time.