Wednesday, March 18, 2009

buses and trains

When Jerry Brown ran for the presidency one of his favorite lines was “I’m not conservative, I’m just cheap.” In a parallel way I could say “I’m not making a fetish of my carbon footprint, I’m just cheap,” (thrifty, economical, living within my means—there are better ways of saying it.) The result, though, is similar: when my wife and I travel, we leave behind a light carbon footprint. No private automobile for us. It’s all about trains and buses.

Fortunately, the Vaucluse recently inaugurated a program to encourage bus riding. Their form of encouragement, lower fares, spoke directly to those of us who are (select one: cheap, frugal, thrifty, parsimonious, living within our means). As a result, we can ride from here to Carpentras about 15 kilometers away, for 1 Euro 70, (85 centimes apiece). A longer ride from Carpentras to Avignon costs only 2 Euros apiece. From Avignon we can catch a train to anywhere in France or Europe. Since I have now reached the age of 60, I am automatically qualified for a discount.

What are the drawbacks? The biggest one is adjusting to pre-set timetables. Sometimes that does not pose much of a problem. Buses between Avignon and Carpentras run every half hour. In our village, however, the schedules are set for middle and high school transportation. That means buses leave early in the morning, 7:00 and 8:00. There is also a bus that leaves at 1:00 p.m. Coming back in the evening, buses leave Carpentras at 4:10, 5:10, and 6:10. Travelling by train thus requires planning that allows for the ride to Carpentras, transfer to an Avignon bus, and then to a train.

As far as advantages, there are some beyond the economic and ecological ones. We have no worries about getting lost, finding parking places, deciphering strange road signs, or dealing with French drivers. During the trip we can read, relax and meet some interesting people. Sometimes, of course, “interesting” is good and sometimes, well, just “interesting.”

Our local bus ride has made us appreciate the general politeness of French schoolchildren. Imagine being on a bus full of middle schoolers. The first impression that comes to mind is probably “loud.” Here the bus is quiet. The schoolchildren generally greet the driver as they board and thank her as they leave. The driver knows them well, having ferried them back and forth for many years.

On a recent train ride from Montpellier, one individual shared our compartment between Montpellier and Nimes. He was pleasant and a helpful guide, pointing out to us, Vergeze, the town where Perrier bottles its water. Normally, we would have assumed a mountainous source, but this sparkling water comes from near the Mediterranean.

At a different point on the “interesting” scale is a recent conversation I had with a benchmate as we were each waiting for a different bus. This was a friendly, talkative young man. He had come into town he said on “business,” actually using the English word. When I asked him what the employment was, he admitted it was a different line of work and made the sign for smoking dope. Apparently he is a lower level marijuana and hashish vendor. “Vendor” may be a bit of a fancy word here. “Dealer” is the more correct one. “Business” was good he said, plenty of demand. Also, unlike other “vendors” he offers a first rate product, not one adulterated with fillers to add a few grams and increase profit margins.

Sometimes a train ride can also be nostalgic. The cars on our last ride were of the older sort with eight person compartments, not the two-row seating, the bus and airplane look, that now dominates train design. I had thought that France had sold most of these cars to Eastern European countries, but apparently some are still operational. It reminded both of us of being students in the late 60s when these sorts of cars were the rule. Imaginatively, the nostalgia can even send us back to scenes from Hitchcock movies, at a time when carbon footprints were not yet a recognized problem.


  1. Love your blog! Just found it on expat living. Looking forward to reading more

  2. Thanks. I love your name. Minerva,the goddess of philosophy.