Why the French Couldn’t Conquer Mexico

Dark clouds formed on the horizon. We were whipping along, taking the first-world super train TGV from the Gare de Lyon, Paris, toward the south of France. Rain began to fall. The train slowed to a halt. The intercom announced, “We are stopping for your security.” Then there was a tremendous explosion from the front of the train. Crows in a tree way off to the right rose into the air frightened. The blast was sharp and loud. There had been no lightning. I thought, briefly: a terrorist attack. Or somehow we had built up static electricity and the train had stopped because it had reached dangerous levels. Then I thought the static electricity had somehow attracted lightning, a connection with ions already in the air from the storm. It began to rain hard. Finally the rain stopped, the sky lightened. The voice on the intercom announced there were experiencing electrical difficulties (!) and they were working on it. We heard people banging on things outside our super-modern car.

After fifteen minutes, the train began again. Ten minutes later, it stopped again. Same announcements, but no explosion. The intercom man said again it was a matter of regional electrical problems. Hard to believe. After fifteen minutes, we started again. I assumed they were talking by radio or cell phones with trains behind us—so we wouldn’t be rammed.

After fifteen or so minutes, we stopped again. In the end, we arrived fifty minutes late in Valence! (Largest barge harbor in Europe, where Napoleon imprisoned a Pope, refugee center for survivors of the 1.5 million genocide of the Armenians by the Turkish government in 1915) A read-out there said we had been late because of high winds. Hard to believe. We could have just slowed down.

Tomorrow, we continue on the TGV to Montpelier. We have to take a small train for five miles east from Valence to reach the high speed TGV line. We will get to our train on time, but we are not sure whether the super-modern TGV will be anywhere near on time. I do not know the explanation for the breakdowns. None of the explanations, theirs or mine, convince me. All I can think of is that Fate provided us with a metaphor for what is currently happening (economically) in “first world” France, as well as a clue as to why, ultimately, Maximilian (“The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire,” C.M. Mayo) and his troops could not prevail in their occupation of Mexico.

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