Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

French disaster relief local food challenge

September 10, 2005

I should have cancelled heading up north last Wednesday morning when by 6 a.m. I had already made my way across two rivers, almost ruining the treasured Martin Margiëla heels! The bus ride down to Montpellier was spectacular, spectacular meaning that there’s something in the scene that can kill you. And although it was in no way on the order of the weather going on across the pond, my return to the Low Country was defined by big Occitanian weather. Curtains of lightening illumniated the pre-dawn Pic St. Loup valley into liver coloured snapshots of wild boar narrowly escaping death by our bus.

It didn’t occur to me that this weather would have any affect on me until we arrived at the transferium Occitanie in Montpellier where the gushing, thundering and lightening took on new proportions. Stuck in a hoard people seeking unavailable shelter, I was quickly soaked down to the innermost microfibres of my culotte and suffered the onset of hypothermia for an hour until summoning the courage to change into my dryest clothes au plein publique. Montpellier was one meter under water and all transportation had been halted until… no one knew.

After some hours the tram brought us to the gare and I was able to board a TGV to Paris, but not until partaking in a series of very expensive ticketing manoevres. Problem was there was very little vitesse in the TGV, and at the speed of a slow bicycle we piddled past fields visibly filling up with water, roads turning into rivers, rivers churning and rising right unders us. During the 6 hour endeavour we never actually got to Nimes (only 60km away) before eventually turning back. At 20.00 hours I found myself at the self-same station, with hundreds of other travellers, all stranded without hope of hotel rooms or food.

The French Rail informed us upon our re-arrival at Montpellier that we would be sleeping in the trains that night and that we were to remain in the station because Montpellier had been closed down. Both SNCF (French Rail) and Red Cross were in ample force making sure that all the passengers were comfortable, or as comfortable as could be expected under the circumstances. Within an hour of settling down, the SNCF were started passing out chocolate beignets (delicious ones at that) and later extremely tasty surimi-sandwiches made out of warm baguettes, with good tomatoes and good lettuce. The funniest moment was that while handing out bottles of water, a group of ladies started reading the labels, wondering aloud whether or not the water was ‘local’. An SNCF employee put down his box of waterbottles and used his own young eyes to help them read the fine print and discover the water’s provenance. Oops, not local, but the baguettes and the beignets were still warm, and clearly local.

Under a baggage rack and a silver red cross blanket, and under the influence of a sleeping pill, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until I had slept an entire 8 hours. The next morning we were awakened by the same cheery SNCF employees, seemingly unaffected by their 16 hr. shift, plying us with delicious coffee and croissants. They put us on busses to Avignon to board the TGV there, out of harm’s way.

I applaud the SNCF for taking up the responsibility of what it means to offer a service from start to finish and to be a natural host in doing so. Their behaviour was exemplary for all travel mishaps caused by weather or other, really the SNCF should coach the entire world in maintaining a good attitude. Their behaviour absolutely set the tone for the passengers allowing everyone to remain calm and even even in good spirits. (One woman began singing people to sleep, walking up and down the isles of the trains!) It wasn’t only the ’service with a smile’ that I found so welcoming during this inconvenient weather situation, but the fact that the SNCF and the Red Cross employees seemed to actually really care. Bravo. Bravo Bravo.

debra at 11:43 | | post to


  1. Hey ho, I found you thanks to google’s new blogsearch service when I went looking for yurts… you have a magnificent blog! I will have to come back and spend some time in your archives.

    Comment by livebird — September 16, 2005 @ 10:02

  2. Whoa! I haven’t checked your blog for awhile. Quite an adventure. Adventure are ok as long as you survive them.

    Comment by dad — September 22, 2005 @ 23:58

  3. Dad, it’s a blog you can visit almost daily.

    Comment by Debra — September 23, 2005 @ 19:14

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