Metro - the new perfume of Paris

John Lichfield
Saturday 19 December 1998 00:02 GMT

THE SMELL of the Metro - something between burnt air and rotting bananas - is a characteristic Parisian experience: as much a part of the city for visitors as the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Elysees.

The magic formula is, or used to be, a delicate blend of scorched rubber, sweat and sewers. It also used to include the heavy scent of Gauloises and Gitanes, until cigarettes were banned from the Paris underground a decade ago.

In recent years, that trademark aroma has deteriorated for other reasons. Some of the homeless people who spend their days in Metro stations treat the corridors and, even the platforms, as lavatories.

The Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP),which runs all public transport in the French capital, commissioned an opinion poll to discover why Parisians were using the Metro less. A common reply was: "Ca pue." (It stinks).

The company decided to put things right for the centenary of the Metro in 12 months' time. In an experiment launched yesterday, one station is being suffused with a scent, especially designed by one of the big French perfume workshops.

The fragrance, described as having a "hint of spring flowers", will be mixed with cleaning agents and applied daily to the platforms, corridors and floors of the Invalides station. If successful, it will be applied to all 366 stations on the system.

The RATP is also working on a more technologically advanced solution: the use of ultra-violet light to smash the molecules hanging in the air which create bad odours. Either way, the old Metro smell seems likely to go the way of berets and yellow car-headlights. Another "exception Francaise" is about to disappear.

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