Features

News From the Front

So I spent most of last year cooking this trip – a nice little technical conference in a place no one goes, Toulouse, France. You gotta sing real loud to get funding, and if it looks like more fun than normally authorized for business travel, well…

So I stick my wife in coach, take that long ride to Europe via JFK (nice skyline), and eventually find my way to the south of France. A minivan they give me, but I need to drop it in Paris and rental companies all hate drops, so they give you the worst vehicle in inventory. Still, Toulouse is a nice college town, a bit scruffy here and there, but nice enough, and more seafood places than you could imagine this far from the ocean. It’s on the Garonne River and the Canal Midi, a tree lined relic of Louis XIV. All in all, quite a relaxed place.

After a day or two of talks on Terahertz Spectrosopy and megawatt gyrotrons (don’t ask, it won’t help) the first sign of trouble arises when a fellow Yank at the hotel Petit Chambre refuses an invitation to dinner. Something about four hijacked airplane crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Hallucination? Hard to say, she seems serious. We have dinner at a sidewalk restaurant and wonder what this means. The night before, another couple and I discussed global warming and whether it was more important to fix short-term problems or long term problems. I’m in the short term camp, but negotiable.

After dinner, we wander about and find a bar (selling Guinness) with a TV. Mostly empty, the bartender translates the commentary. It’s terrible, and we (USA and France) MUST do something; you’ve seen the video, you know the response.

At the hotel, the desk clerk asks for news. What do I know he doesn’t? He has he same TV, the same commentary, and the advantage of being the native speaker. Yet I’m the American, I must know more. I make a few things up, he’s happy.

Over here, the best English newspaper is the Herald Tribune. It’s what the expatriate community reads, though tough and consistent, it’s what we have if your French is as bad as mine (reference to recent movie review). All we know is what we hear, and fortunately, email is still alive. The French, Germans, Russians, and whatever are with us. The message is this: All the West stands or falls together. We must strike now, even if it is the wrong target.

One of these days the planes will fly again, see you then. ◼


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