“THANKS, EUROSTAR”

I went to Paris for New Year’s Eve (yeah, get me) and it was really impressive how nice Eurostar is to take, and how weirdly helpful the staff always are. Even more impressive right now, because a lot of things are making their jobs harder and none of it is really their fault.

Eurostar is the international high-speed train service that runs from London (UK) through the Channel Tunnel directly to France, Belgium and soon the Netherlands (an Amsterdam service starts this year). For now, all these countries are in the European Union, which has free movement for all citizens. Until something changes – like one of those countries officially leaving the EU – any citizen of a country with a Eurostar station has the right to travel freely to any other country with a Eurostar station. (This is different than the Schengen zone, which has free movement for all people, citizens or not; the UK is not part of Schengen, and may stop non-EU citizens from entering the UK via the EU if it wants to.)

One of Eurostar’s biggest selling points over low-cost airlines, its main rival, is shorter overall journey times. For example, their Flying vs Eurostar infographic, which shows “city centre to city centre” times: they argue that looking at just the flight time disguises the time and expense of getting to and from the airport, and having to get to the airport much earlier than the advertised flight time. Eurostar, which runs to city centre stations like the Gare du Nord and Brussels Midi, wants to give passengers a “turn up and board” arrival time as close to the scheduled departure time as possible, so that Eurostar feels as much as possible like a ‘normal’ train, where you can run and jump on basically right up until the doors close. For its highest spending passengers, Business Premier and Carte Blanche, Eurostar promotes a pre-departure time of just 10 minutes. Read more...

“What has the EU ever done for us?”: Public communication in Hauts-de-France

These advertisements were in every train station I passed through last week in Nord-pas-de-Calais, the area of Hauts-de-France (Upper France) known for Agincourt, the Somme battlefields, and the Calais refugee camp. The ads are paid for by the Hauts-de-France regional government, and tell you exactly what the European Union has contributed to the area: €219 million for science and research, €100 million for business, €59 million for youth training. Even on the train departure board at Arras, the regional capital, there was a little sticker explaining “Europe engages [or ‘commits to’] Nord-pas-de-Calais”. I looked up the slogan later and the ads are part of an EU awareness campaign, “Mon Europe, Mon Quotidien” (“My Europe, My Everyday”), that the Hauts-de-France region launched today, 29 October: every Saturday, the campaign will go to a different town or city in the region, set up a stand and tell people about what the EU has done for their area.

I have been fantasising about how the EU referendum in the UK might have gone if local governments in England and Wales had run campaigns like this. I’m not even fantasising about a magically different result (j/k of course I am), but just about what it would have been like to have this kind of conversation, actually talking about the pros and cons of the EU, instead of vague gesturing about the NHS and business, and racist incitement about immigration.

Sometimes in the UK you’ll see a small EU flag on something that has received European funding. But I have never seen signs like this, and during the referendum, the Remain campaign never gave a clear, loud statement about the benefits of the EU instead of the risk of leaving it. The Remain message that I heard most was “It will be bad for businesses and London banks” – because post-austerity that’s really the message that resonates with people – and “Immigrants: sometimes not that bad really? (although obviously we all want less of them)”. Seeing the “Mon Europe, Mon Quotidien” campaign made me realise how frightened and small-c conservative the Remain campaign came across, and how far the conversation in England has gone away from talking about reality, instead of wishes: I have heard nothing from the Westminster government either before or since the referendum about EU science funding, community development funding, social funding… (I say England and Westminster because the Scottish government has been much more on top of this, and I’m not aware enough of the conversation in Wales and Northern Ireland to be able to say.) Read more...

Tudor Brexit

Hello! How are you? I was working on a book and then a bunch of ostentatiously horrible political stuff happened, so instead I’ve spent the last three weeks drinking constantly and refreshing Twitter. Ha ha ha! [MUFFLED UNCONTROLLABLE SOBBING]

It’s become apparent that the leaders of the Leave campaign had zero plan, and either never really expected to win, or assumed everything would just turn out OK: I think possibly one of the reasons so many people went “yeah, sure, let’s leave the EU, no idea what will happen but it will probably be fine!” is that it taps into one of the main stories England tells itself about itself, about that time we told Europe to fuck off and it went great.

The story goes something like, Read more...

London to Rome in a DAY! On a TRAIN!

Last week I took the TRAIN to Rome, all in one day, which was extremely exciting if you’re me! Although getting to St Pancras for the 05:40 Eurostar was a bit dreadful – I especially remember one French-speaking man picking up his suit jacket from the luggage screening belt, and just staring at it helplessly for several seconds before sort of flailing his arms into it. But it was blooming lovely to slump into a double seat and watching the sun rise along the tracks over Lille.

The centre of Paris is so close together that whenever I need to change trains there, I usually just walk between stations – it’s much less faffy than the metro/RER, and means getting to actually see the city for even that short time. Walking to Gare de Lyon went past Place de la Republique, where the monument to the Third Republic has also become a monument of the city’s response to the attacks last year. It’s definitely a monument, not a memorial – the tone is solidarity (lots of flags of different countries) and defiance.

republique monument Read more...

ile_st_louis

Ten Things I Hate About Paris

Paris is brilliant. This is a list I’m making so that, when I go back to London in a little over a week, I’ll be doing it gracefully and not while uglycrying and digging my nails into the Eurostar check-in desk.

1. Parisians don’t quite understand what the handrails on the Metro are for.

Example: Read more...

parisian cool_ft

Uncool in Paris

I was in Paris for just six weeks, the hottest six weeks of the year, World Cup season, away from my husband and living away from London for the first time since I left the US as an exchange student eight years ago. After the Portugal-Ghana match, I walked over to dinner at Candeleria, a trendy Mexican bar/restaurant in the 3rd one of my coworkers wanted my authentic American opinion on. I got a seat at the bar and regretted it almost immediately. A rail-thin American woman was standing next to me in a tied-up crop top that was basically a long-sleeved bra, pouring drinks all over herself (and me) and wailing insincerely, “I’m soooooooo sorrrrrrrrrrrry!” In an attempt to set a good counterexample of My People I sat up straight and pointedly read Eric Hobsbawm, although this was on my Kindle so I think the snobby leftist intellectualism failed to come across. The bartender was an exasperated geek girl aged about 20 in a white-and-black-striped cotton shirt and dark blue skinny jeans, who looked like Velma from Scooby Doo and had not yet learned the Parisian customer service art of blithely not giving a shit.

I ordered a plate of guacamole and a chorizo taco (both excellent) and a SoCal-Mexican-style frozen margarita. The bar had two frozen margarita mixers, one pale green (lime) and one red (hibiscus). The man accompanying the drunk American woman pointed to the red one. “We’ll have two of those, I guess? Liz?” He was also American and had a beard and looked like an annoying Ryan Reynolds. Young Velma poured them and handed them over with a hopeful openness that made me want to take her home and explain about everything terrible in the world. Read more...