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.