My Apology to France

I take back—if I may—what I said about the TGV (le train à grande vitesse) being a metaphor for why France—where my great-great-grandfather was born—could not conquer Mexico between 1864–1867. For those of you who remember anything about your U.S. History, that was roughly the time of our Civil War. And maybe the only reason we didn’t intervene against both France and Mexico.

I know that’s a lot of information to take in. Especially the part about my great-great-grandfather, whose place in my family tree grants me one thirty-second French blood, and therefore clearly the right to pass judgment on things French.

You can read the whole truth about my great-great grandfather at www.sterlingbennett.com, under the title “French Blood,” where you will learn that he owned slaves, traded in the Caribbean with chartered schooners, shipwrecked off the coast of Florida, swam ashore, and was shot full of arrows by Seminole Indians who thought they were getting too many immigrants in their area.

The trolleys of Montpellier run on the same nuclear energy produced électricité that the TGV uses, but do not stop or slow down for bad weather. Why I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because they do not aspire to de la grande vitesse. In fact, they poke along, for the most part, until the drivers—both male and female, I point out—see an open stretch, and then open up the throttle to as much as forty miles an hour.

Maybe this lesser speed has something to do with their shape: they closely represent California’s banana slugs, but that is the extent of their throw-back character, and my thirty-two parts French blood is immensely proud of their technology.

Any great city of the world would be lucky to have them crawling over their streets. They ding their bells a lot but otherwise progress with space age avionics. The drivers sit enclosed in air-conditioned booths with switches and levers and blinking lights and various digital readouts. Cameras point rearward on both sides to alert the driver that a passenger has only managed to get half way in—or out. The drivers’ seats are cushy. The trolley’s progress is coordinated with all kinds of outside track signals that say proceed or slow or proceed with caution. This is to prevent various kinds of collisions with other wheeled but un-tracked vehicles. It doesn’t help at all with passengers that get out and then cross the track right in front of the tram just as it’s about to start; or against the unlit cyclist at night who performs a daring fly-by, in front of the moving trolley, ignoring its three warning dings.

Very much like mating banana slugs, as many as three cars cling to each other. But unlike slugs, you can walk from one car to the other—and bring bikes and animals inside.

So, all in all, France is doing very well, judging by the trolleys of Montpellier. Every city should have a rout of them (group name for snails). And for between cities, maybe a TGV or two. But the type that does not build up static electricity and cause delays and explosions and mysteries for its passengers—and eventually become a metaphor, justly or unjustly deserved, for the country it breaks down in.

So much for my apology. No doubt the country is heaving a sigh of relief, having been redeemed by this one thirty-second of a countryman.

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