In his last couple essays Montaigne has been occupying himself with thoughts of punishment. He has considered two reasons why people were often punished during his era and during antiquity. These were obstinate defense of an untenable position and cowardice. The discussion of obstinacy was more interesting and starts with this paragraph:
Valour has its bounds as well as other virtues, which, once transgressed, the next step is into the territories of vice; so that by having too large a proportion of this heroic virtue, unless a man be very perfect in its limits, which upon the confines are very hard to discern, he may very easily unawares run into temerity, obstinacy, and folly. From this consideration it is that we have derived the custom, in times of war, to punish, even with death, those who are obstinate to defend a place that by the rules of war is not tenable; otherwise men would be so confident upon the hope of impunity, that not a henroost but would resist and seek to stop an army.
Of course the opposite side of obstinate defense would be fear to defend to the appropriate limit. Apparently anything but the exact balance is punishable by one of the warring parties; obstinacy by your enemies and cowardice by your allies. The trick for him is a sort of intuitive calculus that lets a person gauge the plausible reactions of others. (It seems intuition back then wasn’t for discovering what you liked to do, but instead was for simply staying alive. Something to be thankful for I guess.)
In any case, the punishment at least seemed to have a cause, people being punished for something they did. Whereas nowadays people (i.e. me) are punished (read: slightly inconvenienced) only by (slightly) bad luck. I’m talking of course about my relationship with trains the past couple of days.
I took a very nice trip to Mont St. Michel and Rennes (and Paris, which was unplanned). Mont St. Michel was as impressive as I imagined it would be. It was absolutely teeming with tourists, French, American, Irish, Spanish, and of course, Japanese; there was one restaurant I saw whose menu was even translated into Japanese for the convenience of the Japanese tourists who do their fair share of keeping the economy afloat at Mont St. Michel. Despite the throngs of people, they manage to do a good job inside the monastery of dispersing the tourists in such a way as to make it still feel almost meditative and prayerful.
But getting to Mont St. Michel was no walk in the park. I left Coulommiers on a train at 6:35 am, getting to Paris at 7:40. I took the metro line that was supposed to connect me straight to the other train station but there was a vast swathe in the middle that is undergoing construction, so I had to get off and take a series of other trains to get to Montparnasse from Gare de l’Est. Well so I got there at 8:35, 30 minutes before my train was supposed to leave. So I waited until they would announce the platform where it would be leaving from. As 9:05 approached they delayed the train initially for 30 minutes, then as 9:35 approached they delayed it another ten, then another ten again, and again, until at last the train left an hour and twenty minutes late.
It was 2 o’clock before I finally got to Mont St. Michel, and the last bus left at 5:15. I hoped I would have enough time to do it all. Thankfully, being alone and not having anyone to eat lunch with, there was no time wasted there, and I was able to soak it all in quite leisurely.
I made it back to Rennes without any problems and walked around that evening and the next day. Since the weather was cooperating where the trains weren’t, I was able to take a pleasant stroll through the city and I found a place to read a book for a while.
The train back to Paris that afternoon was prompt but I had a persistent runny nose the entire time, which made the two and a half hour trip less comfortable than it would have been otherwise. I’m sure Montaigne would have me punish it for its obstinacy.
Then I hung out in Paris for a bit, meeting up with some other American English assistants. A couple of them had just moved into a beautiful and excellently located apartment in Paris; I have no idea how they will pay for it, but I’m glad we’re friends now, if for no other reason than to benefit from their sweet place. In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that I stayed till 11 o’clock, when I hastily made my way to Gare de l’Est in order to catch the 11:15 train, the last one for Coulommiers, being two stops away on the Metro I thought this would suffice, but when you get to the station and half to wait for 5 minutes (oh the inconvenience!) for the next train, it makes it so that you miss the more important train. GAH! Parisian trains why do you hate me?! I get there 30 minutes early and you leave and hour and a half late; I get there 30 seconds late and (of course!) you leave right on the dot.
So, I was forced to go with the assistants whose apartment I had just left to a Halloween party without a costume. I suppose worse things have happened. I slept on a futon in the cool apartment that night. I bet worse has happened to other people stranded in Paris.