To get going, sometimes all you have to do is close your eyes. Come up with. As soon as the Blue Train pulls up, the excitement begins. A long line of luxury cars where a rich class can relax in the sun and the Côte d’Azur. Residents watch for the strong fall of its corridor, the restaurant lights, refined by the brass floor lamps and silk lampshades, and the glints of the beds carried by the wind. Ephemeral traces of an out-of-reach opulence. Confetti of a memory carefully curated by the Compagnie internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL). Its copper-lettered Pullman cars lost their color in the half-light of midnight that was extinguished by dawn as they neared the Mediterranean. From the gray of the North to the red of the South, this journey is like an initiation, reserved for an elite.
Blue Train lived in a closed building of a place that was sealed among themselves. Historian Clive Lamming, the treasured keeper of the railway’s past, reckons that in its golden age, the interwar period, the price of a single ticket represented half a month’s wages. for an employee.
The Blue Train was the only one to bear this name late, in 1949. But the use of that name became widespread in the 1920s, forty years after its release, when it bought The CIWL recommends for its vehicles the wood of teak varnished for steel, guarantee of durability and safety. André Noblemaire, its commander, wore a dark blue coat enhanced with yellow netting, referring to the colors of the uniform of the Alpine hunters, the group he served. The Calais-Méditerranée Express was soon called “the Blue”. In high society, it is common to hear words like: “The bar at the Bleu is more beautiful than the Ritz. » Beautifully decorated with marquetry signed René Prou, the elegant champagne is poured there by staff in white clothes.
“A land of good company”
The crown heads of the United Kingdom, including Queen Victoria, and the British royal family have reserved the Blue Train for the approach of snow and extreme cold to warm their old bones inside. of the emollient and invigorating atmosphere of the Riviera. It was this remote winter garden that King Edward VII wanted to recreate “a great community where everyone gets together like a garden party”. this is “all over” indeed, it should be taken in its most restrictive form.
According to Clive Lamming, the drivers of this “customers of goods” followed by the road at the wheel of their Hispano Suiza filled with equipment, baggage, servants, nurses and small children, so that they do not disturb the voluptuousness of the cocktails and drinks, the comfort of card games smoked by cigarettes, and the softness of sleepers. “The night train has created the comfort and luxury of big hotels, while guaranteeing safety and security to its passengers. drawing on the Spanish scholar Rocio Robles Tardio on Railway history review (1). (…) These trains succeeded in introducing the luxury offices and hotels of Paris on the tracks. » The beauty editors of the Roaring Twenties thought about it “the most beautiful train in the world”. Clive Lamming insists: “The Blue Train is more than its story. » Darius Milhaud drew a ballet from it, to a libretto by Jean Cocteau (who wrote the line), composed by Bronia Nijinska, Nijinsky’s sister, which premiered at the Champs-Élysées. Élysées on June 20, 1924. The clothes were designed. by Coco Chanel and the stage curtain by Picasso.
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When the wall came back, the night owls were released, released from their wallets, and sat comfortably on the carpet. At the entrance of their mahogany room, they put their watch on the hook that was used for this purpose. In the bathroom, a CIWL-handled glass decanter sits on the sink. Before going to bed, these insomniacs are saddened by the pleasure of pouring themselves, drawn from a silver bottle, a night night (a night cap), the last whiskey to enter sleep. In a corner, but clearly visible, a porcelain cabinet creates problems at night. Blue lights filtered through the darkness.
Every year, in May, the Blue Train pours its share of international movie stars, rushing to the Cannes Film Festival, which the photographers, in the light of the Rays that do not die in time, they immediately tear when they are seen on the stage of beauty.
The blue train? A restaurant car where high-flying chefs, in eight square meters, create dreamy meals, which can only be eaten with silver cutlery from Christofle and the glass factory Lalique, where popular bar, ten sleeper cars, Pullman lounges. The chic of the chic reinforces this comforting atmosphere. “First service” was announced by the shout of a waiter who shook the bell as he walked down the aisle. People just go there to see evening dresses and dresses.
While the passengers were eating, the staff mended the clothes, nice and thoughtful, made the beds, removed the crazy blankets, pressed the pillows, removed the sheets. The dining room was low, in the silence returned, but held by the steel engines of the exchanges, the servants slept there, suspended on the tables, in hammocks to placed on the walls.
From Calais, the Blue Train arrives at the Gare du Nord and joins the Gare de Lyon via the Petite Ceinture de Paris, going through sections of the schedule to the sound of the bell and the sound steam locomotive, with grace. releasing his cinders in public. Every evening at 7:30 pm, the company is fully formed, the Blue Train departs from platform A of the Gare de Lyon. Before leaving, the mountains of trash and hat boxes were banished with their demons. For training, before the great journey to the Rhône and the Mediterranean, many people climbed the steps of the famous Buffet de la gare (it was only called Blue Train in 1963), baroque, pompous and with the legacy of the Belle Époque. eat food in silver bowls.
It was just a taste of what awaited at the end of the night, the best chocolate, followed by marmalade from Scotland, served in this palace on trains by gliding gracefully through valleys framed by the ocher cliffs of the Esterel. In the distance, the guardians of the Riviera stand against the light: Cannes, Antibes, Nice… porcelain while the Blue Train, oscillating to the sound of its mechanical time, plunged into the magical sparkle of the Côte d’Azur.
The 1970s tarnished the glory of this legendary train. They begin to remove some of his potatoes, to humiliate him. The bar cart to begin with. Then the restaurant car, which is limited to the Paris-Dijon journey. Finally, the most beautiful sleeping cars, before washing them all. And he was stationed at the usual Gare d’Austerlitz.
Ten years later, the TGV would bring him the fatal blow, the coup de grace. High speed without luxury. Fast for fast, fast without service. Fast for everyone and comfortable without any requirements. Let’s face it, there is no color without taste…
(1) The Blue Train: the color and movement of a journey (Revue d’histoire des chemins de fer n° 35, 2006)
Next week, part 2: The Mistral