French Friday: So Many Trains. So Many Places. Season 2.

Since I didn’t learn how to drive until I moved to the US, I took lots of trains in France. Especially when I was a teenager and wanted to go places. Jumping on a train allowed me to visit friends and also to travel between home and university. I admit hiding from my parents my real destination or purpose when I knew they would say no. Only on a few occasions 🙂

My Hometown Train Station

From Caen where I attented college, a train was also an affordable and quick way to go to Paris.

 

Caen Train Station

Later in Paris, the métro became my daily train.

I’ve always loved it when the metro rode above ground and not underground

When I met my not-yet-husband he lived in a studio at the top of a modern building. Much nicer than my weathered Bastille flat, which came with a great view on the slate-grey roofs of Paris but a bathroom so tiny the landlord couldn’t enter with me when I visited. My husband’s bathroom in comparison was the Ritz. Except that he had set his personal train station across the bathtub.

Too bad and a little weird, I thought.

Soon we moved together in a typical Parisian apartment which came with high ceilings with lovely crown moldings, tall windows, two fireplaces, and two bedrooms. And a bathroom sans bathtub.

Generous me told my still boyfriend that he should take the extra bedroom as an office. True he needed one more than I did. He moved a table, a chair, bookshelves in there. And rebuilt his train station on a large sheet of plywood supported by solid trestles. Okay, I thought, he’s in love with trains.

Soon enough, I discovered why. His maternal grandfather had worked his entire life for the SNCF, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer. Since an early age my husband boarded countless trains that took him from the Parisian suburbs to the Pyrenees where his grandparents lived and later to Champagne. When he was too young and couldn’t board a train alone his grandmother would pick him up (by train) and travel back with him. Together they even ate on the train.

I took once an overnight train in Africa and still remember the white-clad waiters who delivered breakfast to each car. Which filled with the mouth-watering smell of toasted bread and freshly brewed coffee. These are moments one never forgets. So I easily imagined the impact of these train experiences on my husband.

Yes, trains take us places. But they are places too.

******

Moving to California changed my train-train. The French expression train-train is the equivalent of the American adjective mundane.

In Palo Alto, we lived near the Caltrain station and my husband became an occasional train commuter. With our two little girls in tow I would meet him at 6:00 p.m. at the station. The girls loved watching the train arriving. They scanned the crowd for their papa, wanting to be the first to spot him. I had a hard time containing their impatience.

My husband and I took the train to attend our first immigration appointment in San Francisco. We both had a Driver’s License, but left our car home so our visiting parents could use it in case they would need it as they watched after our young daughters.

Five years later, we moved to Massachusetts where our fourth (and last!) child was born. Andover came with its train station run by the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority).

Since my OB practiced at the Mass General Hospital in Boston I rode the train to attend my monthly appointments. It was easier than finding a parking spot in this compact part of the city. Especially in the midst of one of the infamous New England’s winters.

With my son’s arrival in the family trains made a gigantic come back. Perhaps because I rode trains when he was in the womb, or because of his papa’s personal relation to trains or still simply because many little boys are very fond of anything with wheels, that boy loved trains.

His father could only help nourish this early childhood passion. Soon the living room (not the bathroom) morphed into a train station. Thomas the Tank Engine became the seventh member of our family.

My son rode the car as if it was a train, and he was the trainmaster. I drove with a permanent train soundtrack as a background. For his third birthday he asked for a train ride. So the six of us boarded the Andover-Boston train. The girls kept asking, “Are we there yet?” When the train reached the city our son said, “More.”

We had been back to California when his fourth grade teacher took his class aboard AMTRAK to visit the Capitol and Old Town Sacramento. My son couldn’t wait to board his first California train. He got more than what he was asking for since the train encountered some mechanical issues on the return. All kids were exhausted when we picked them up late at night. Not that boy who could not stop making hypothesizes to explain the reasons why the train was stuck in the cradle of California for hours.

His sisters never shared his enthusiasm and I must admit that my first serious attempt was a failure.

Not really my fault, as you saw last week.

 

P.S. Now that my son is in college his trains have been carefully packed in large boxes and stored away. Next to his father’s own trains. Sometimes I think of their mutual joy when they teamed up to fix a rail track or add new cars to the train set or still watch the trains going round-and-round.

Going nowhere and yet going everywhere.

Comments

  1. I really like trains, Evelyne. Unfortunately, my train experience is very limited. My most extensive use has been in New Zealand and Europe. Out west, where I was raised, it was all about cars. I was able to handle much of the political strategy for bringing light rail to Sacramento, so I feel like I made at least a small contribution. I smiled when I read about your husbands dedication to trains and how that was passed off to your son. –Curt

    • Another train’s lover 🙂
      Very cool to read that you contributed to bringing light rail to Sacramento. I wish for more similar transportation everywhere. Too late I’m afraid.
      France built its transportation system after WWII, thanks to the Marshall plan by the way.
      Yes I like it too that the men in my life share many things in common. Their interest for trains being one of them.
      Wishing you well.

      • Light rail has made something of a comeback, but not like it was once in the old trolley days, that’s for sure when General Motors ran around buying up rail lines and tearing them up so people would use busses. 🙂 –Curt

  2. I think you know that I love trains. I don’t have model trains, but my friend in England does, and he sends updates and videos from his layout. I am trying to imagine traveling as a young boy through the countryside on a train. Just the thought makes me smile. And, I am totally with your son in not being the least bit upset about the train delay. Flight delays mean you’re stuck on a plane on the tarmac or inside an airport. Train delays mean you’re stuck on a train 🙂

    • Over the years we spent together in France I bought a few additions to the model trains my husband already had. In fact I would like him to rebuild his set now that we have more space with the kids away from home.
      Agree on the difference between planes and trains too.
      Even when I was stuck at the train station in Paris it was better than an airport. See you around.

  3. I love trains. I’ve always regretted that the train comes through our town, but doesn’t stop here. America would be a much better country if we had good trains as Europe does.

    • When I drive on an American highway and see that most people sit alone in their car, yes I aso think that we missed something with public transportation. However, even with the French extensive system many people drive too. Paris was so saturated with pollution that some accesses to the city are forbidden to cars. London has even gone beyond. And both cities have great subway systems. Looks like most people love the freedom and privacy of their car even though it means spending hours inside them. Still would prefer a fast train taking me to big cities, for example 🙂

  4. I love reading about your life in trains Evelyne! You’ve had some very interesting train journeys 🙂

  5. I wish I had taken more trains in fact. We don’t always realize what we have until we don’t have it anymore. You must take the train and subway much more than I do now 🙂

  6. Loved reading this!

  7. I would rather watch a toy train than ride a real one. Although, to be fair, I’ve never ridden one regularly. The one I took in Europe from Paris to Pisa was wonderful, so maybe I should say I don’t like riding American trains long distance. Maybe I should give it another try, would you say?

    • Paris to Pisa must have been lovely, no? Agree that trains in Europe are faster and better than American ones. For short commuter distances, though, I’d rather ride a train than drive a car. You can read or write or just watch and dream. See you, Marian.

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