Jeanne Koré Salvato

All methods of transport become precious in a French transport strike, even a non-Uber, non-Lyft ride share, called BlaBlaCar.

This striking season came from the dispute over the retirement age.  President Macron wanted to elevate that age from 62 years to 64.  Now this may or may not be reasonable.  Retirement age is higher in much of Europe.  But the problem was the president’s timing and his manner.  Why not, after a pandemic that stretched on for years, first invest in hospitals?  Schools?  Why not fiddle with the profits of the enormously wealthy to augment the retirement coffers? 

Sign: I will be dead before my retirement

Macron has an alliance with French bankers, having worked as a banker for Rothschild’s. (As did President George Pompidou—remember him?).  Some say that experience makes Macron an easy target.  Others say he made himself that target, despite warnings before he took the job that it could derail his career.  He created his own party called En March! A centrist party that filled many a heart with hope.  I remember a strange thing, though.  After he was inaugurated, he went fox hunting at a chateau.  Now as for image building, this I would not recommend.  Apparently, les chasseurs (the hunters) in the French Hunting Federation have a big lobby. Macron has been accused of arrogance, and acting like a king, an image not helped by the loophole he used to force the law elevating the retirement age to become law.

Strikes, strikes, strikes!  When I arrived in Paris last spring, I was greeted with the excellent news that the rapid train service from the airport into Paris was lagging 2 or 3 trains behind schedule.  Think of the crowds piling up.  So, I decided to take a taxi from the airport into Paris. I was shepherded along with big signs to the “official” taxis, read, non-Uber, non-Lyft and non-authorized people who spirit you off and kidnap you for a a ransom, at least according to made- for TV movies. There is a fixed rate from Charles de Gaulle to Paris, 55 euros, no matter the delays.  I hopped in the taxi, and delays there were.  Not only extra drivers on the road, who would normally take the train, but les travaux—works, it’s called in English—or construction, with the mad dash to try to get Paris ready for the Olympics next year.

In the month I was there, the local trains, the fast trains, the speed trains—all were cancelled at one time or another.  Cancelled! Supprimé ! (But we English speakers made an English word out of this annoyance, suppriméd [supreme-ayed] for suppressed. And sure enough, it happened when I was staying with my lovely friends, a couple, in Sèvres, west of Paris in the so-called Paris region. She is an architect, and he a vet and a distributer of medicine for animals, and I’d spent a few days in their charming French household, visiting musées (museums) and dining à la française (translation, superbly!). I was getting ready to take the train the next day to St Saire in Normandy. “Oh, no! Supreme-ayed!”  I announced, looking up from my phone, the day before departure. His response was an assured, “BlaBlaCar.”

According to the company website, “BlaBlaCar is the world’s leading community-based travel network. No matter where you’re going, by bus or carpool, find the perfect ride from our wide range of destinations and routes at low prices.” Sure enough, since the phone can do anything, I was quickly signed up!  A woman would pick me up about a ten-minute drive from the house in Sèvres and my friend was glad to drop me off.  (Can you imagine?  Finding your way around the Paris region is no walk in the park, believe me.) Except then the pick-up point changed to farther away at the Porte d’Auteuil.  Pas de probleme,” said my friend, no problem. The driver of the car assured me she was in no hurry and would wait for me.“

May I point out that visitors are by definition a problem.  I am sure that deep in the etymology of the word “visitor” we will find, “un problema.” In my case, I had sent the entirely wrong dates for my visit to my Sèvres friends.  Admittedly, there were many moving parts, but really?  The wrong dates?  My friend also kindly said she’d drop me off at the nearby metro to go to the Musée Guimet, which houses the most beautiful Cambodian buddhas.  We drove off. Well, I’d forgotten my phone at the house.  Back we go.  Then dropped off at the metro, I realized I had left my wallet in the car whilst looking for my phone.  I did manage to sneak through onto the metro and bummed money from other friends at the museum. 

My friend now drove me to the new pick-up point at the Hippodrome d’Auteuil, the horse racing course there. The driver texted me to say she’d be an hour late.  While we were walking and whiling away the time, she’d arrived. After a curt greeting, she said that she’d been about to leave. What happened to no hurry? The answer is that it had been a trying day.  She’d set off from the south of France quite early.  She hadn’t been able to take the auto-route, though, because the entry had been blocked by many bodies protesting the new retirement age.  This delay was upsetting.  What would it be like in the city where we were going?

Her small car had a bike strapped to the trunk, a very big dog in the back seat, along with another passenger. Used to the vagaries of chance, thanks in part to Beckett’s play, I bid goodbye to my friend. “I hope I will see you again,” I said.

I tried to start a conversation because this was, after all, a car for blah blah.  “I’m sorry, what?” the driver would say in French.  She couldn’t hear in her right ear.  Fortunately for her, the passenger sitting right behind me, so to her right, was gifted in tongues. She heard him just fine.  Could it have been my accent that made it hard for her?  Nah.  (Yeah.)

7149721 Woman using an ear trumpet to hear her pet talking parrot (litho)

I explained I was going to St Saire after we arrived in Rouen.  Oh no, they both told me.  I was really going someplace else that sounded enough like St Saire to be the intended location.  And it so happened that this look-alike was on the driver’s route home.  I took out my phone and showed them St Saire written in a text.  They were both deflated.  New plan.  Forget dropping me off at the train station.  What if there were protestors?  The man and the driver agreed upon a McDonalds on the outskirts of town, which meant that my poor friend awaiting me had to go farther out of her way.  Much texting on the part of the driver on the car phone worried me more than the protestors. “I’ll tell her”, the driver insisted, calling my friend on the car phone.  Arrangements were made.  McDonald’s was found.  All for 16 euros.

Is Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett a protest play?  I am asking this question thanks to a suggestion in a book I randomly picked up in a second-hand bookshop here in Rochester.  Written by Milan Kundera, born in the Czech Republic but writing in French, the first chapter is dedicated to the painter Francis Bacon, whose haunting and visceral triptych on the death of his partner is unforgettable.  Beauty and the abattoir in the human experience.  Kundera writes, “Living through the end of a civilization (as Beckett and Bacon were or thought they were), the ultimate brutal confrontation is not with a society, with a state, with a politics, but with the physiological materiality of man.” What would the vagabonds say to that?

And speaking of the physiology of shared rides, BlaBlaCar has not yet made it into the US.  Anyone up for a  franchise?

Share This