The Tube

Portobello Road

The Tube - London Underground


“Young man,” he said, “understand this: there are two Londons. There’s London Above―that’s where you lived―and then there’s London Below―the Underside―inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you’re one of them. Good night.” Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere.

I confess that every time I go down into the “Tube” I get lost and take the wrong direction. Its complex and intricate intersection of lines disorients me. And the reserved security guard, who utters only words unaccompanied by any helpful gestures, never succeeds in helping me find my way.
Old war veterans, couples in love who kiss on the escalators or hug each other almost hidden in a corner of the wagon. Lonely people, and people who don’t know each other but seem to share a love of reading newspapers. A musician playing the harp, and my reflection in a mirror at Portobello Road station. These are the images of this gallery.
The “Tube” is made of narrow wagons that create an intimate, almost cozy space where we can get closer, if but for a few moments, to the life of people who outside, up on the street are distant and unattainable.
The same city and two very different worlds: the London above, the one of monotony, obligations, and the familiar life we all know; and the other, an underground London, where nothing is as it seems. It is unpredictable, full of adventure and magic, a little danger, and the risk of never being able to return to the London above.
Neil Gaiman’s London Underground is a world full of mystery and fantasy, with doors that nobody (or almost nobody) can open. It has an endless number of characters, each one more magical and enigmatic than the previous one.
Salvador Dalí said that the first time he used the subway in Paris he felt a terrible fear, his experience described as being swallowed and traveling through the intestines of a large monster before being thrown again outside.
The iconic expression “Mind the gap”, used in the London Underground since 1969 to warn passengers of the existence of a gap between the platform and the train carriage, perhaps best symbolizes the passage between the London visible above and the underground London of riddles and mysteries.
The first line of the London Tube, the Metropolitan, was inaugurated on January 9, 1863, becoming the first in the world. It covered a route of only six kilometers, between Bishop’s Road and Farringdon Street. Currently, it exceeds 400 kilometers in length and has 274 stations through which more than three million passengers travel daily. It is the second largest metro network in the world (after Shanghai) and the largest in all of Europe.
The “Tube” has always been closely linked to the vicissitudes of London’s history and life. During World War II, Londoners used the underground network as a bunker, and hid there during Nazi bombings. Accesses to the stations also became hiding places for precious works of art.
On July 7, 2005, London experienced the worst terrorist attack in its history. It occurred in three subway wagons and on a bus, in which several bombs exploded, leaving 52 victims dead.
Queen Elizabeth II visited the London Underground for the first time at the age of 13, in 1939, and in 2022 the “Elizabeth Line” was inaugurated, a tribute to her seventy-year reign. Urbanism specialists say the Elizabeth Line will be the largest infrastructure construction of this century, adding an additional 10% of capacity to the central London rail network. Thanks to this, a million and a half more people will be within a 45-minute journey from England’s main employment centers, adding 42,000 million pounds to the UK economy.  

Pablo Munini © February 2023

 

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