The straightforward solution to take a train to Madrid was also out because, in the southern part of France, the trains weren’t running because of a strike of the ticket takers. Despite the downturn in the European economy, with Greece teetering on the brink, the French ticket takers wanted a 5% raise, far greater than their compatriots. While the consequences of an act of nature can be accepted, its exacerbation by striking workers during a spreading disaster was incroyable. Whatever happened to fraternité, fellas?
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Explore This IssueJuly 2010
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“Instead of frogs, they should be called toads,” someone said, exasperated when he learned of the train shutdown.
Rental cars vanished in the exodus of travelers for home, and we had a trifecta of modern inconveniences. No planes. No trains. No automobiles.
Vans still existed, and the meeting organizers commandeered two to carry people over the Pyrenees Mountains to Madrid. We signed on, deciding not to risk waiting for the Nice flight that we had booked for Sunday. According to Google maps, the distance from Mandelieu to Madrid is 1,229 kilometers, but the prospect of action was more appealing than getting marooned on the beach and, like those refugees in the movie “Casablanca,” waiting, waiting, waiting.
The Long Journey
Our silver Volkswagen van was commanded by a sober-looking man named Salvatore who wore a white shirt and shiny blue silk tie and looked a little like the French actor Alain Delon. We were all in high spirits as we stocked up on water and wine for the trek through the night. With a full tank of diesel fuel, off we went, optimistic that we would make it to the Barajas Airport before the winds got crazy and covered the sky with the volcanic ash.
While I think of Southern France as the bucolic place depicted by the Impressionists—gentle and suffused in the blazing Mediterranean light—the road to Madrid is a modern highway that could easily pass for U.S. Interstate 95, even if it is populated by Renaults and Citroëns. Nevertheless, the landscape near the road is lovely. Twisting black vines fill the fields and silver-beige cliffs rise high in the distance. An occasional old stone farmhouse makes it clear that this is France.
Amongst the van riders, one read a journal, one did a crossword puzzle, four dozed, and two (including yours truly) engaged in a spirited discussion on the significance of clinical versus radiographic remission in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We also talked about the emerging data on the relative efficacy of biological versus conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drug treatment in Disease Activity Score–driven protocols.