The Paris metro’s Franklin D. Roosevelt stop used to be a step back in time. You got on the train in the beginning of the 21st century and got off in the middle of the 20th. The platform for the number 1 line, in dashing shades of bright orange and steely blue, was particularly evocative. You half expected Walt Disney to step out of the wings singing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” While Wikipedia tells me that this version of the station’s decor was unveiled in 1957, to me it looked like the mid-1960s, sending me on a magical mystery tour of my earliest memories, of cone-shaped paper cups at water fountains, of my dad’s Pontiac in the driveway, and snippets of the New York World’s Fair. All I remember of that event are the dinosaurs at the Ford Pavilion (which later ended up at Disneyland), that Space-Age globe (which still hovers over Flushing Meadows), and terrifying fireworks that made me cry. It was a time when technology was the key to the future, science could solve all problems, and messy wars like that one in Europe were a thing of the past. Never mind that there was a seriously messy conflict going on in Vietnam. That was something you could choose not to think about while you teased your hair into a beehive.
Until I saw that metro station, I never even realized that the Space Age arrived in France, despite having seen Barbarella. It just wasn’t something you expected to see just underneath the Champs Elysées. But there it was, with the words “Franklin D. Roosevelt” spelled out in bold American letters, lit up from below like a cinema marquee. True, it was worn and somewhat seedy looking, but that gave it a ragged nostalgic charm. It was as if you had come across a sunken relic of another age, like the forgotten New York subway in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
But alas, it’s close proximity to the Champs Elysées, that yawning commercial mouth dedicated to digesting tourist dollars, made it inevitable that someone at the mayor’s office would decide it was time to give Franklin D. a makeover. Didn’t anyone tell them that “mid-century” design was all the rage? Whose idea was it to turn the number 1 platform into a trendy club? Black and gold brick, digital screens showing videos no one bothers to understand…it feels like a giant advertisement for something expensive. I like the fact that the ceiling seems to have sprung a leak and the paint on the gold tiles is already peeling. Serves them right for going against the glorious grain of time.
But all is not lost. There is still the number 9 line platform to admire. An awesomely awful combination of grey and gold with bright yellow molded plastic seating, it still harkens back to the days of LBJ and Charles de Gaulle, of Ford Mustangs and Simca 1000s, of Ann-Margaret and Brigitte Bardot…ah, here’s to the memories, real or imagined…