Poetry & ProsePoliticsWar, Violence & Terrorism

The Veins of the City

Sub­ways and Met­ro­pol­itan rail­way sys­tems are fas­cin­at­ing things. In a very real way, they reduce the almost incom­pre­hens­ible com­plex­ity of a mod­ern met­ro­polis to a gen­er­ally slightly less com­plex sys­tem of col­oured lines and dots. They also reflect, to a large degree, the major flows of traffic in a city, form­ing the con­duits through which many com­muters and tour­ists pass each day, account­ing for a sig­ni­fic­ant part of the eco­nomic and demo­graphic traffic.

We might call them the ‘veins’ of a city, mostly hid­den from dir­ect view, but vital to the flow of the sys­tem. Com­bined with the some­times exotic charm of a sub­way in a city away from home, this per­spect­ive can give the metro a spe­cial romantic mys­tique, the image of a place that’s in the city, yet not.

Metro 2033 UK edi­tion cover

It’s a big coin­cid­ence that, just as I am read­ing Dmitry Gluk­hovsky’s Metro 2033, ter­ror­ists stage an attack in the Moscow Metro, killing sev­eral dozen people, and injur­ing many more. Read­ing the book, I am steeped in the spe­cial place the metro has a city below a city; the Moscow of the sur­face is prac­tic­ally unin­hab­it­able for people due to the fal­lout after a nuc­lear war. The metro below, how­ever, has become the refuge of the sur­viv­ing people, who now live in a world that is a model of the city above, yet vastly dif­fer­ent.

But also in the real world, the metro is a spe­cial place for cit­izens, which is why a ter­ror­ist attack there has that extra impact. Not only does it do phys­ical dam­age to the people dir­ectly involved, as well as to the flow of traffic and there­fore the eco­nomy, it also does psy­cho­lo­gical dam­age, because you hit the city in one of its hid­den, per­sonal places. Bombs that go off in the sub­way dam­age a city in its struc­tural and psy­cho­lo­gical core.

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