When we first shared with our sons that we would be traveling from England to France on a train, they were genuinely enthused. They have taken quite a few train trips at this point and enjoy the experience–from playing cards to watching movies to eating. It’s relaxing above else. “Great” they said. However, when we informed them that the train would be traveling underneath the English Channel, they responded with some reasonable questions and concerns. Cassius, as you might expect, wanted to know if we would be able to see the water. He was thinking of a sort of Atlantis aquarium experience in a glass tube surrounded by fish, and was somewhat disappointed to learn that we would be traveling in total darkness with the tunnel bored beneath the channel. Jackson, on the other hand, was a bit more scientific in his approach. He wasn’t so much scared as inquisitive, but he clearly wanted to understand the engineering aspect of this achievement before trusting it completely. Holding a graduate degree in poetry qualifies me, perhaps less than any human on earth to answer this, and I was thankful to have the Internet and Karen to help Jackson gain comfort with the construction project. We obtained the necessary info to make him relatively comfortable with the proposition.
But there was little question that the hero of the day was Karen, who had to balance the ability to comfort her sons as a mother and manage her own claustrophobia. The recipe was simple. Tell the boys as much as she could to help them relax prior to the trip and, at the same time, manage to be sound asleep by the time the train departed. Fortunately, this was accomplished and Karen didn’t wake up until the sunshine was coming through the window as we traveled across the French countryside.
And just like that, we were through the Chunnel. Cassius read a book. I watched a movie with Jackson, and daylight appeared. A voice came over the loudspeaker in French, and if it weren’t for our ears popping, we wouldn’t have even realized it. Just over two hours to Paris. Across the English Channel.
London and Paris have long been linked by history and culture. Despite their different sensibilities, they’ve often been neighbors and allies. And despite some genuine rivalry over the years, they have needed one other more often than not. The slender body of water between them has, at times, made that reliance a challenge.
But there is nothing ancient or historical about the Chunnel. It is anything but–a symbol of the modern link between these two great cities–connecting their glorious pasts, not only through monarchies, but ingenuity.