T G Wheeee!

For once my business travels took me to France, and I had the luxury of not spending significant chunks of time at either end of my travel waiting.  The TGV takes about three and a half hours from Basel to Paris, making it more convenient than a flight.

The trip and the preparation leading up to it reminded me of the various names for high-speed trains the world round.  The Japanese call theirs “Shinkansen,” which means “new main line.”  The Germans, “ICE” – “inter city express.”  Many of these designations are functional relative to the entire train network, referring to some sort of connectivity.  The French are among those who refer only to speed and call theirs “Train à Grande Vitesse” – “Train of Great Speed.”  (The capitalization I feel is warranted: it is extraordinarily fast, almost to the point of discomfort.  And after some research I know why: I was on the fastest TGV stretch.)  Unfortunately, that name turns into irony every time there is some kind of delay, like on my trip, where roughly an hour outside of Paris the train slowed to a crawl due to some signal trouble.  Fortunately, traffic in Paris was also rather fubar, so my partner there didn’t have to wait for me for too long.  Unfortunately, my arrival didn’t change the traffic situation and we spent an hour crawling from the Gare de l’Est to Saint-Denis to get to the A1 north.  And what a blessing it was to get out of Paris.  A more intimidating spectacle for a poor little Swiss like me than traffic happening in Paris is hard to find, as is a bigger miracle than not having witnessed any accidents there.  (No traffic accidents, that is – I don’t know what was the reason for three police officers standing around a supine man bleeding from his mouth at the train station exit.)

The next day we went to a lab in the Lille area for a demonstration of our instruments.  We ran two microscopes in parallel and measured a good number of samples with surprising efficiency: the customers knew their samples and the machines behaved impeccably.  I have rarely had a more satisfying customer demonstration, though of course their satisfaction is what really matters.

We left the lab at about three o’clock and headed for the highway to the center of Lille.  The lights at the intersection just outside of the science complex were green, but my partner slowed down because one of the cars – a Renault or a Citroën – in the oncoming traffic was turning across our lanes.  As we slowed, a black VW Golf sped past us on our left, heading straight for the Renault, then veering to the right in an effort to zip past it before it turned completely.  The Renault kept turning, either distracted, unable to fathom such stupidity, or assuming the Golf would try to pass behind him.  Or maybe the Golf was just too fast to allow a normal person to react, as it continued to bear right and without the brakes ever lighting up smacked the front right fender of the Renault, sending it spinning like a bumper car.  The Golf ended up on a traffic island, and before we’d crossed the intersection ourselves the driver (male, of course) had gotten out of the Golf and started prancing around it.  I really hope he doesn’t get away faultless because the light was green…

After witnessing my first ever real accident I’m not unhappy to take the train back to Paris and then to Basel, even if it does involve lugging thirty kilograms of microscope down the stairs between Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est.  It began to rain on the way east, which I noticed first by a crackling sound and then, as we slowed, the rivulets running down the windows.  The rain had not quite let up when I arrived in Basel, but I was welcomed with a kiss and a large umbrella, so no matter.

3 thoughts on “T G Wheeee!

  1. geezlouies

    we saw a similar accident… except the turning car got hit so hard it flipped over multiple times (like you see in nascar). the car from the oncoming traffic had green light… he wasn’t expecting someone to turn in front of him, so there was no getting around it. It was a very surreal moment… but fortunately everyone was okay.

    I’m glad your driver was alert to it…

  2. SursumCorda

    How fun to read “Gare de l’Est” and know what you are talking about. I’m glad there was no one bleeding from the mouth when we were there….

    Paris, like New York City, Boston, and anywhere in a snowstorm, is only enjoyable if one is not driving. Maybe I should add Lille to that list. That’s one of those experiences I’m glad to read about only because I know you must be safe because you’re writing about it….

  3. thduggie Post author

    Lille isn’t that bad – it was only one crazy driver, and that was strictly speaking not even Lille, but Villeneuve d’Ascq.


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