Setting and Time

To step off even a modern train into that great arena of travel, the Gare du Nord, with its soaring framework of old iron and glass, its hoopskirted, light-filled beauty, is to step directly into Paris. Barley and I descended from the train, bags in hand, and stood for a couple of minutes drinking it all in. At least, that is what I was doing, although I had been there many times by then, passing through on my travels with my father. The Gare echoed with the sounds of trains braking, people talking, footsteps, whistles, the rush of pigeon wings, the clink of coins. An old man in a black beret passed us with a young woman on his arm. She had beautifully coiffed red hair and wore pink lipstick, and I imagined for a moment trading places with her.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I can’t help but be swept away by Kostova’s description of Paris through its signature train station.

Setting can be its own character, and the Gare du Nord presents itself that way through Kostova’s space-defying descriptions.

The “hoopskirted” building is a wonderful characterization. It’s exactly what I imagine to see stepping off a train and into station, especially as that loft descriptor is followed by the sharp, fast descriptions of sound upon sound hitting the reader. It feels so fresh, even though the character admits to having been there many times before.

But haven’t we all been struck by our surroundings?

Haven’t we all stopped to marvel the flow of life in a moment when it seems that for just an instant we might step out of time?