I love subway. Trains and trams are nice too but subway is different. It is the network of arteries of a city that moves millions of people from one place to another and makes possible the daily life of any big city.
I love watching people in the subway when I get to a new place. It says a lot about the society, its level and lifestyle, how happy or not people seem to be, their habits, the degree of civilization, the level of immigration and many small details that are not conclusive but do help you to capture sensations.
City of Cairo has the only subway in the entire African continent. That’s why, the pride of its inhabitants is understandable. A special feature of Cairo’s subway is that the platforms (and consequently the wagons too) are separated alternately for men and women. If you want to travel in mixed couple, the girl has to travel in the gentlemen’s wagon, where the words “to be in the spotlight” get into another level if it she is not covered properly. I say this from experience because once they look at her, they looked at me to see who is with the walking piece of meat in front of their eyes. It was pretty violent, really.
Another one of those social phenomena that occur in the subway which attracted my attention takes place in Tokyo. I am talking about the famous pushers. I have no picture of the day that they pushed me from behind but I keep a funny memory (does it sound as bad as I’m thinking?). Among kimonos and fashion trends, the variety of colors in Tokyo’s subway stations is assured. Moreover, I only saw politeness, respect, harmony and no bad moods. The cover photo is a clear reflection of japanese society, where there is a generational incisive cut in which a transgressive youth, with the passage of time will become -or not- honorable members of the hardworking and idyllic Japanese society.
“Mind the gap”. Incomprehensibly, every time I took the London underground I was mentally pronouncing that stupid phrase. The damn tagline is catchy (the same with ” Epomeni stasi ” in Athens). It is the most cosmopolitan and multicultural underground I have been in. Probably being one of the largest and busiest, for sure the London underground is the oldest in the world which is understandable since England was where the locomotive was invented. But the modernity of London’s underground has nothing to envy to any of the most recently built around the world. Not like in other cities with very ancient subways.
What almost nobody knows is that the second oldest subway in the world is in Budapest. I would have bet on Paris. I would have lost. Modest and humble, the subway of the Hungarian capital honors one of the most beautiful cities in the world (at least those I have visited) with a line where trains do have a special charm. I don’t know if the age and wear of some of the cars that I took, the humility of some of its main stations or something that I couldn’t notice when I got on, but the subway of Budapest has a mysterious halo that reminds me spy stories of the war times. When I was a kid I dreamed to be a spy or a secret agent, and Budapest metro returned me to a dark and mysterious atmosphere where maybe I was one in a previous life.
Old things have something that new things don’t have. They have history. And speaking of history, one of the oldest subways which have travelled in is Paris, where I lived one of my most beautiful stories. 2011 caught us going to the Eiffel Tower where we planned to bid farewell to 2010 with a bottle of champagne. I remember it was so cold that it was not necessary to bring ice. We did not arrive on time. We started the year in a wagon with hundreds of people surrounded by strangers. One of those stories that remind you that life is what you miss between your fingers while you insist to grab on other things.
Please be so kind to let me skip Seoul and talk about Busan, my hometown. Busan subway has the singularity of being, like Barcelona, close to the coastline and one of the few citites where I have met people in flip-flops on their way to the beach. One thing I loved was this image that has gone around the world for the good vibes that (further to an islander like me) always brings to see the sea or something which reminds you the beach. Especially in environments that are often cold and impersonal like the subway. The picture is from the Internet.
With only three lines, Athens’ subway was built with lot of hurry to get ready for the Olympic Games held in 2008. What no one expected was the unexpected discovery of thousands of ruins of the ancient greek civilization which delayed the works but served to some stations to become genuine underground museums. Due to its recent construction, it is one of the most modern undergrounds in which I have travelled and one of the lines in which I have travelled more often after spending a year living in Greece. During route, it was very common that a student suddenly broke the silence giving a revolutionary speech, inviting everyone to attend a anti-system demonstration or to participate in the next strike.
- New York
New York subway, with its seventies industrial look for their gleaming steel wagons and the red brick of many stations is one of those undergrounds where I took the habit of observing people trying to imagine their lives. Once I even thought I saw the guy of Ghost who taught Patrick Swayze how to move things. Perhaps because of the fact of having seen it in a million movies, the underground of the city that never sleeps has become familiar to me since the first moment. But there is one thing that pierces my memory and was the typical moment when you want defend someone when you’re witnessing an abuse and then you think “better don’t, who knows if this guy suddenly pulls out a gun”. I don’t know if I did well. As they say, “it will weigh on your conscience”.
If there is something particular from the subway, these are buskers and Madrid is definitely one of those undergrounds where I have enjoyed more of those anonymous artists who enliven our daily movements to fulfill our role in society. I don’t know what it is, but Madrid has something special that Barcelona’s underground doesn’t have and I don’t mean it notifies you the stops in spanish instead of in catalan. Madrid’s subway is also where I have seen more delinquency and bad stuff, not to mention the 11-M, but in its defense, Barcelona is the only place I’ve seen a guy with suit, tie and briefcase jumping to skip the checkpoint. But that’s another story.
Istambul metro is one of the eldest metros in the world. You may call it underground because it has a small underground section but actually most of its lines are outdoors and there is a part connected with a cable car. It was amazing to travel watching Bosphorus background separating Europe from Asia. I hope I will come back again to this incredible city that I would like to know more about. I also hope the conflicts in the whole Mediterranean area will soon end up. Although I remember travelling very worried for the bombs every time I took the subway, not for that I’ll stop trying to return to enjoy the charms of which was once capital of the known world.
And how to talk about old and world capitals without speaking of Rome. The underground is not as old as the city but it is fantastic to move between catacombs and history of mankind. In my opinion, it seemed a bit chaotic and neglected. The metro of Rome, as in Tokyo and London, is one of those which caught my attention in the sense that people are very stylish wearing clothes. It is a superficial nonsense, but it is also one of those details that you notice. And, as I said before, one of the first things I like to do when I get to a big city is to travel by subway to watch people, to observe their daily lives. And that’s what I noticed. Not wanting to mean with this that Italians do care more about how they dress than for other things.
But if there is a subway that strikes me a lot and which I have not visited yet, that’s Moscow’s underground. The story that has not been told because it didn’t happen yet. I save it for last, for dessert. I’ll have time to visit the great Russian lady and move beneath her skirts. The picture is from perspectiva conica.
Until then, I will go on trying to enjoy as much as life lets me scrape her.
“I met a genius on the train today with 6 years old. He sat beside me as the train moved along the coast. We reached the ocean. Then he looked at me and said: Isn’t it beautiful? It was the first time I noticed it”.