Tag: TGV

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.

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.