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Friday, June 29, 2012


1.    Susie and I set out yesterday morning at nine a.m. for Gare St. Lazare, to catch the 10:20 train to Vernon and Giverny.  It took us twenty-five minutes to snag a cab, and another agonizing thirty-five minutes in Paris traffic to get to the station, so I was very fearful that we would miss our train and have to cancel the trip.

Gare St, Lazare is enormous, and rather hard to negotiate if you don't already know it, as I did not.  I found some automatic ticket dispensing machines, but completely failed to decode them.  The line at the one ticket office wound around two stanchions and clearly was not going to move much before our train left.  Finally, in despair, I said to Susie, "Look, no one seems to be taking tickets.  Let's just get on the train and buy tickets when the conductor comes around.  If that is not allowed, they can throw us off at the first stop, but that is our stop anyway, so what the hell."

We climbed onto a very modern, very attractive, very crowded train and found seats pretty much as the train pulled out.  It turned out there was an intermediate stop -- Mente La Jolie -- but no conductor came through, so I figured there would be a turnstile at Vernon which would stamp everyone's tickets on the way out. We would have to pay up and talk our way through as clueless tourists.

No turnstile at Vernon.  We just got off the train and joined the long line for the shuttle bus to Giverny.  In wonderment, I said to Susie, "We just traveled from Paris to Vernon for nothing.  What on earth is going on?"

Four hours later, we took the shuttle bus back to the train station, where I dutifully bought two tickets [one-way] to Paris -- ten Euros each, once it was established that we are indeed senior citizens.  I slid the tickets into a bright yellow box which stamped them, as instructed by various signs, and when the train came, we got aboard.  Once again, no one asked for our tickets at either end.  Had I not bought the tickets, we could have made the entire round trip free.  I still do not know what was going on.  But is this anyway to run a railroad?

2.   I have for several days been engaged in a death struggle with France Telecom to get our TV set to work properly.  We pay 34 Euros a month [$42] for the privilege of not getting more than about six stations, and I decided the time had come to sort things out.  I shan't go into details -- the struggle is ongoing as I write -- but along the way, as I was doing my six kilometer walk this morning, I imagined myself trying to explain to a service technician in French what is wrong.  [My French is nowhere near good enough to have such a conversation with any confidence that I am communicating succssfully.]  Now, I do know that "brancher" means roughly "to plug in."  If you want to tell someone not to unplug an appliance, "Ne pas debranchez" ought to do it.  How would I say, I asked myself, that something was plugged in the wrong way -- clearly a possible cause for my inability to get the TV set to work properly.  Would I say, "Le TV est malbranche [acute accent on the final e]"?

And then, since I am stll nominally a philosopher, I of course thought of the 17th century proponent of Occasionalism, Father Malebranche.  "Hmm," I thought.  "Malabranche.  malbranche.  Do you suppose he was called Malebranche because he had his wires crossed?"  Just a thought.


formerly a wage slave said...

For some reason your story of traveling without a ticket put me in mind of the following: In the late nineties I once took a trip by train from Bratislava to Brno. I purchased a one way ticket well in advance at a travel agency. When the ticket checker came, he first complained that my ticket was one way. Yes, it was, but where was there in that a reason for complaint? (After all, the Berlin wall had fallen long ago....) And then he complained that the ticket was dated the day on which I had purchased it. That surprised me, but I simply asked him (in Slovak, which , regrettably, I never really mastered) whether he was saying that the travel agency which sold it to me had cheated me. At that point, he left the compartment without saying anything further and didn't bother me. After he left, I turned the ticket over and saw that the travel agency had stamped on it "good until...." and specified a date (a date after the day on which I was traveling.)

P. J. Grath said...

I think the free riders on French trains are like the way-too-fast speeders on American roads: some are not caught, while others are. It is more cost-effective to trust that the majority will be honest and abide by the rules, only doing spot checks to try to reduce temptation on the sneaky, weak-willed, or those with an exaggerated sense of personal entitlement. What do you think?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I would like to think it is that rational, P.J. Who knows, perhaps it is. As for the Bratislava to Brno trip, I infer that you were young then. I confess to an irrational fear -- perhaps acquired somehow from my European ancestors -- of encounters with officials in any slavic or quasi-slavic country. I have never traveled to the Soviet Union [or Russia] because I somehow thought they would not let me out again. Crazy, but there it is.

By the way, the trauma with the TV continues!

formerly a wage slave said...

Is forty young? My family name is Hungarian, but my grandparents were not. They were Slavs, so I do not quite share your fear---understandable though it is. I have been told or read or something that some of the bureaucratic style in what Americans think of as "Eastern" Europe is due to the Hapsburgs. To be honest, I find that policemen and highway patrol officers in Texas are more frightening than any police or bureaucrat I encountered in Slovakia. It seems to me that the local constabulary believe that they are pursuing truth, justice, and the American way, and that God is on their side. The police and bureaucrats I met in Slovakia seemed to be cynical opportunists who did not believe in what they were doing, and did not expect you to either--- They only expected you to pay the fine or bribe or have the right papers which they would stamp.And it was all a bit theatrical in a self- conscious way I do not see in the States. To be truthful there was often a manner suggesting that you were insignificant, an irritating nuisance, but I thought it was a case of over- acting..... The correlative functionaries here seem to me to be true believers.....There is a longer story to tell here,or even a better characterization of the difference, but I leave it for another day. Perhaps because policemen were so commonly the butt of jokes, and widely believed to be corrupt, I found them less fear- inspiring than any woman sitting behind a cash register in the grocery store when I was buying breakfast---she becoming outraged if I tried to pay with a large bill..... ( Perhaps you thought I was young when travelling from Blava to Brno because I didnt turn over the ticket. A sign not of youth, but of inexperience with travel by train. So too my lack of commonsense about paying with big bills may seem youthful folly, but the ire of the ladies was remarked upon by other friends who unhappily found themselves only with a large bill. I think that such honest expression of anger and frustration by anyone working in a shop is taboo in the USA. Anglo friends called it "rude", but I could never quite see it that way ....And good luck with the TV!

David Auerbach said...

The buses in Paris work on the same system--every now and then controlleurs appear, blocking the exits and checking everyone's ticket or pass. Big fines. This even happens on the métro, despite the nominal turnstile controlled entry.