Episode 2: Two brothers in Paris

1900. In the train from Nantes to Paris, Alexis Biette kept his eyes glued to the pocket watch he’d taken out. He did the math: the ticket controller had just announced that the train would be arriving at the Montparnasse station in half an hour, bringing the total time of the ride to five hours and 39 minutes precisely. As Nantes was 423 kilometers from Paris, the average speed would be… let’s see… 75 km/hour! That was completely crazy! When you think that just 50 years ago it took about 13 hours for the same trip, and over a week a century ago, you couldn’t help but rejoice in the progress sciences have made. As well as this pleasant feeling that modernity has just begun. Alexis was heading towards the Paris Universal Exhibition, the place where all the nations in the world came to to present their progress and discoveries. He was looking forward to wandering around the new buildings they’d built for the occasion and discovering new masterpieces. He glanced up and looked at his brother Henri, his associate for over ten years now. He’d fallen asleep leaning against the window. Alexis smiled: how could anyone sleep when the world was progressing so quickly?

A few hours later, in Section 90 of the wood and staff pavilion for French companies on the Invalides Esplanade, Alexis and Henri had finished putting up the Biette stand. They were not just mere visitors: they were exhibitors and were hoping to win a new prize for their perfumes. The jury would be coming tomorrow. In the meanwhile, they
could do what they wanted and there were plenty opportunities to fill this hot August afternoon. Using the mobile platform – called “Rue de l’Avenir”, or “Street of the Future” – allowing visitors to travel around the exhibition at 8.5 km/hour, they crossed Alexandre III Bridge, which had just been finished and quickly arrived at the Nouvelle Avenue. They hopped off the platform and stopped for an instant in front of the Grand Palais.

“What style!” Henri murmured to himself.

Alexis nodded. An art lover, this was a building he wouldn’t miss. But for now, there was another innovation that kindled his curiosity: the Métropolitain. Opened just a month ago, it crossed Paris from the east to the west, and one of the stations where it stopped was just in front of them. It was called Champs-Elysées, because it was near the famous avenue. The two brothers walked up to it. There was a green streetlight with its base interrupted by a sign. On it, you could see the word “METRO” written in a specific white font on a red background. That reminded Alexis of nature, but he couldn’t put his finger on the reason why. Looking at each other on the sly, the two brothers took the stairs inviting them to discover a new world…

More to come…