Of Trains, Terrorists, and Travel

By now you have heard all about the terrorist attempt on the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris.  The man got on the train in Brussels, I believe.  I have been on that train twice – returning from visits to the Netherlands.  Thalys is a high speed train company that is jointly owned by the rail companies of France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.  It’s a nice train and gets you places in a flash.

But it’s also like all the other trains in Europe.  You walk into the station and get on the train (except in France where you had best ‘composter’ your ticket – time stamp it in the yellow machine before boarding).  Find your seat and sit down for the ride.  You are told to watch your bags – there is nowhere to check them.  Most fit on the overhead bin and if not, there are usually a couple shelves for luggage near the doors.

That system works.  Yup.  Certainly there is risk and now maybe this act will increase the risk as others may decide to be copycats.  But what can they do?  Right now you routinely see the army walking through the major train stations in groups of 4 or more, carrying their machine guns – but not keeping folks off the trains.  Yet really there is no reason to secure the major stations – in 20 minutes or less, that train will start stopping at small local stations.  To secure every train station in Europe would be a massive undertaking.  Maybe train marshals, like the air marshals, will be the answer.

At a soiree last night, we expats toasted the three Americans! We are all so proud to share their nationality.  On FB  Marcos Breton from the Sacramento Bee posted: Two of the Americans hailed for preventing a “blood bath” on a Paris-bound train were from Sacramento – Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler. Sadler is a Sacramento State student. Along with another friend, they overpowered a heavily armed terrorist and held him until authorities arrived. The French government lauded their bravery in preventing a massacre. Well done, lads

A FB reader commented on his post: I find it funny how no one would care about this story if these two guys were any other nationality. Because it’s only important when it happens to Americans, apparently.

Another reader commented on her comment: Untrue! Actually, it’s usually the opposite stance. But thanks for being the hater! I like how the French would probably have stood around and gotten shot or run. What they’re good at usually! Great job guys!

On another FB post, a French friend posted an article in French about the attack.  A French guy made this comment:  Et pendant ce temps lá, les psychologues français essaient d’expliquer avec compassion pourquoi personne ne bouge quand une personne se fait agresser dans le train…. Lafayette tu es bien loin…chapeau bas pour ces hommes

Which basically says…  And since then, the French psychologists have tried  to explain, with compassion, why no one else moved when the attacker started to act.  Lafayette, you are so far away. Or Lafayette, you are missed!  Hats off to those guys.

All this raises so many questions about the various cultural approaches of all European nationalities.  I may have posted before a quote from A Best Little Chocolate Shop in Paris, a fun novel: … but she couldn’t have looked more French had she been wearing a beret, a small twirled mustache, and a Breton shirt and been carrying a chain of onions around her neck while riding a bicycle and surrendering a war.

Such a confusing country – pretty much giving in without a fight, establishing the Vichy government but then with many brave men and women stepping up to the challenges with the Resistance movement – without which the Allies probably could not have invaded.

On the Thalys, there were two others that assisted – a Brit in his 70s I believe, who helped truss up the attacker.  And a French man who is mentioned in a few articles as having done something at the very beginning to stop the guy.  The Frenchman has not been named.  The other 4 have all received medals already!

I like to believe that had there been 3 Frenchman from any of their military branches, they would have done the same thing.

My expat friends and I are all proud to share our Amercian nationality with them. I am happy that Americans foiled the attempt.  But really, living here in Paris, I would have been delighted if it was a Martian.  That people acted so quickly and were successful at stopping the potential carnage is a blessing.  Anyone who did so would be a hero in my book.  It’s just a little icing on the cake that I can say they were Americans. They lived up to the image of John Wayne and took matters into their own hands.

I have been warmly received by the French during my stay here – but at the back of my mind there remains that little stereotype about ugly Americans.

And then there’s the Donald.   Paul Thomas from the New Zealand Herald wrote recently: “Donald Trump is everything the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandizement, vulgarity on an epic scale.  The fact that so many Republicans are comfortable with the thought of this monumentally unqualified man in the Oval Office shows how warped the Party has become.”

Enough US politics.

I will be taking the Eurostar back from London on September 20 and they do have security and have had for a while.  The biggest issue for Eurostar is the immigrants who have been either blocking the Chunnel or trying to get through it to England. The migrant camps are supposed to be quite large around Calais. There was a bit of violence at the beginning of August but it seems to have quieted down. Since I am traveling by train to Calais to take the ferry to Dover in a week or two, I will let you know first hand. We take the train from Paris to the TGV (Tres Grande Vitesse – Very High Speed train) station which is near the Chunnel and then must taxi, Uber, or walk to the Ferry port.  In early August, some disgruntled ex-Ferry workers had set fire to tires to block the port.  That seemed to be a separate issue from the immigrants.

On y va!  (Let’s go!)  All this because LB wants to see the White Cliffs of Dover!

Still so proud of those young men.

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