The French will never be found in such poignant collective action as when they come together for regular strike action, expressed indignation at governmental incompetence, and general boasting of their cultured individualism.
A Saturday at the station of Bordeaux and one finds oneself in the midst of all of this, brewing in a rich stew of the grains of their culture, and manifesting itself in the mutterings amongst impatient passengers in long queues and the odd remark made to one’s indifferent neighbour. For the last Saturday of August marks the grande rentrée after months of the summer holidays, when all the north of France abandons the upper half of the nation and flees to the South so that their skin might sizzle before the inevitable launch of another long winter.
Imagine the maelstrom, then, when all trains on the line running through Bordeaux and Toulouse stop due to a major power failure! With the passing of every quarter-hour, carriages worth of people begin to pile up in the stations – in an hour, the station is packed with the most indignant crowd ever to be seen on Earth. But the whole affair is a paradox – it is the very same lot who are running the trains and dealing with the aggrieved travellers; thus, in response to the lost and lonely who have been abandoned by their trains in a time of need, the station manager neglects all responsibility, asks for the patience that he himself lacks, insists that further information will come in due time, de toute façon, and that one must wait quietly on the side until the next general announcement.
Three hours later, and a bus is sent to save the poor souls. And how the managers were proud of this feeble move! A single coach, and in the meantime three more TGVs have been cancelled, the population of one carriage enough to fill a coach and a half in itself. To fix the problem, they sent one more coach. By the time the absurdity of the situation had penetrated the conscience of the invisible man in charge of the bordel via the masses that had gathered in the glaring sun of a southern Saturday, a great engineering marvel had fixed the problem and three trains arrived all at once.
To brush past the pandemonium of hundreds of tired and frustrated French men, women, and children, all trying to arrange themselves on these trains with heavy luggage (each believing, miraculously, that they have the right of way), the journey in the summer evening was rather pleasant. Some balance of the universe allowed it so that the train ran through the countryside at the hour of sunset, and all the carriages of the train were pierced by the last fiery rays of day. How glorious is the pure orange bulb that sits steadily on the horizon, as this speedy metal carriage shoots through the plain, patched land, a witness to the steadily darkening greens. Circular, then a flattened arch on the soil, whilst the carriage is bathed in the rich, golden light… Suddenly, all natural light escapes into the world, to be replaced by the sharp electric flame of the train. Only outside, the solitary hues of dusk spread widely across the plain night sky – some last pinks, then purples, and a deep, sombre blue.
Night arrives in the countryside, and the heavenly lamplighter puts the flames in the stars. Only in the countryside are the stars abundant as sand, and stand by one’s side rather than being pushed up to the apex of the sky by the tall buildings of the city.
And thus, arriving in the night, one has already made a few friends.