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The first thing that came to my mind when a young man pulled a gun on me on a South of France train was that no one would believe me if I wrote about it, especially if I also wrote about the bull-sized Russian punk rocker with a chihuahua who got mad at me on the train a week ago.
South of France Trains are Safe. Really!
Then I worried that if I blogged about the man who pulled a gun on me and/or the bull-sized punk rocker with a chihuahua people would think the regional trains in the South of France are dangerous, and that is just not true.
I love South of France trains. (And Quentin and Uma are an item.)
I’ve been taking the train pretty much every day since I’ve been in Nice: to Cannes, Biot, Grasse, Menton and Monaco, and it’s the best way to travel.
I’ve met so many wonderful people onboard: the French school teacher, the two backpacker dudes from California, the Chinese girls I travelled with to Grasse and the young woman from Quebec who emailed me a rocking picture of Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino on the red carpet in Cannes.
(As an aside, Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino are totally into each other, trust me, you heard it here first.) So now that that’s out of the way, and you are assured that TAKING A REGIONAL TRAIN IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE IS A SAFE AND PLEASURABLE EXPERIENCE, I’ll tell you about the man who pulled a gun on me.
The story of a South of France Train, in Which a Man Pulls a Gun on Me
I was travelling back to my apartment in Nice from the town of Biot. The double decker train arrived and I went upstairs.
I stopped at a section where four seats faced each other. Directly across from me sat a Frenchman and beside him, by the window, was his 20-ish aged son.
“Can I sit down?” I asked. This was really only a formality because I was already basically in the seat.
The young man in the window seat aimed a gun at my chest and giggled.”Heh, heh, heh.”
How do you react when a man pulls a gun on you?
I squeaked in shock. Yes. I really did squeak. Then I looked at his father in an affronted manner, as if to say, how can you let your son pull a gun on me? What kind of a father are you?
The man shrugged.
The young man, who had a sort of military hair cut, short on the sides a bit longer on top, like a bouquet of lilies of the valley, put the gun away in his bag on his lap.
I must have been in shock. Because instead of thinking a man just pulled a gun on me! Danger! Danger!I started wondering how I was going to blog about it, and I actually considered – which shows just how deep in denial I was – asking the young man to take the gun out again so I could photograph him with it.
Maybe I felt safer because the boy’s father was with him. Except then the so-called ‘father’ got up and scurried off to another seat at the back of the train car. The man wasn’t the boy’s father after all! And he was frightened enough to run away. That’s when I realized I was now sitting by myself on a train facing a man with a gun. Whose eyes were quite puffy. I think he’d been smoking something and it wasn’t Gauloises.
And then what happened?
And then I kept sitting there. I don’t know why. It was one of those deer-in-headlights moments. When he was looking out the window I surreptitiously snapped a photograph of him so in case he killed me, there would at least be a record of it.
A South of France train plot complication
At the next stop a woman with two children got on and they all tried to squeeze in the two empty places at our foursome. And that’s when I stood up so that the little boy could get in and sit by the window DIRECTLY ACROSS THE YOUNG MAN WITH A GUN.
What was I thinking? And then, just like a cartoon, I shook my head and reality cracked into my skull. It was the children that did it. I couldn’t let them sit there with a man with a gun. What if something happened to them?
Launching into James Bond mode I stood up so that I was now in the aisle beside the woman, who had her daughter on her lap and was beside the man with a gun. I tried to warn her by talking out of the side of my mouth.
Can you imagine what she thought? Why is this American woman who clearly can’t speak French muttering about bad garcon and shaking her head and making gun motions with her fingers? Sadly, it was more Inspector Clouseau than James Bond but I was doing my best.
When saving the world on a train in the South of France do not give up
I kept at it. If anything happened to the little kids I would never forgive myself. By now the mother was staring at me quite open-mouthed, and then the young man with a gun looked up at me and seemed to clue in. I froze. I almost started whistling in an innocent manner but thought that was too obvious so I looked away towards the front of the train.
Finally the mother understood that something was very very wrong (and also that I wasn’t going to go away). She said something about ‘descendons?’ and I nodded furiously, and she brightly told the children it was time to go down to the lower level of the train!
“Huh?” said the little boy.
“Yes, it’s time to go down!” said the mother (or something along those lines in French) and we all trooped downstairs.
Once we were safely downstairs I tried to explain the situation. And it was really very sweet because she asked me if I was all right. And then we all started discussing the young man with a gun, and when he got off at the next stop, Nice-St. Augustin Station, we all stared out the window at him, even the other passengers because by now we were all talking about it.
We watched avidly as he sat down on a bench, took off his shoes and started rolling his white sweat socks halfway down his feet. I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish because he couldn’t easily get his shoes back on with his socks all bunched up.
“Yes, he’s crazy,” said the woman. “I can see that.” She grasped my arm. “Merci.” And I was so glad the little children were safe that I almost started to cry.
And then she had her six-year old son recite his numbers and addition tables for me, which was really amazingly accomplished (on the son’s part, not on either hers or mine). And it cheered me up to no end, that we were all thinking about what 9 + 5 equals instead of about young men with guns on a regional train in the South of France.
Nice Ville Station
At the next train station, Nice Ville, I got off, and then I started thinking that maybe the young man had only gotten off because he knew he was in trouble, and I started thinking he might get on the next train and some other children might sit across from him. What if he pulled a gun on them?
And so I ratted him out. I went to the police office at the train station. (One thing I’ve got to say about the regional trains in the South of France – they have excellent security.) And the policewoman in the office rounded up all the other policemen and I tried to explain in my terrible French what had happened, and said that the man with a gun might be still sitting on the bench at Nice-St Augustin or on the next train here.
“And was it a real gun?” one of the officers asked.
Yes, it was a 9 x 19 mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. HOW WOULD I KNOW? I didn’t ask to hold it! All I know is that it was a scary black thing with a pointy end.
The police take action
The police assured me I was justified in being frightened, and then they started taking pictures of the photograph on my camera of the man with the gun, and I really wanted to photograph them photographing my photograph because it looked quite funny, but of course they had my camera so I couldn’t.
And we all lived happily ever after
In the end, the police went off to find the young man with a gun. And we all stayed safe in the South of France. At least I hope we did. I never found out if they found him.
About that punk rocker with a chihuahua
Don’t let’s forget her! The Russian punk rocker woman was angry because I wanted the seat in which she had her feet up. And I sat down anyway. And she started to yell at me, but her tattooed boyfriend told her to stop.
And it was in solidarity of being stunned by her aggressiveness that I bonded with a young Quebec woman who had sat down beside me, and who later emailed me the rocking picture she’d taken of Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman on the red carpet in Cannes – so it all worked out in the end. Just look at all the nice people you meet through adversity. (And Uma and Quentin are totally in love.)
Read more on the sexy South of France: Visit Things to do in the South of France for plenty of ideas on where to go, why to go and what to do there.
Nice is an amazing place, Tanya! And St. Paul du Vence has such great art and my favourite restaurant in the world, La Colombe d’Or.
Tanya T. Lara
Sorry to hear of your experience in Nice. But it is still a nice place isn’t it, and the whole South of France. During winter two years ago, we went to the Medieval town of St. Paul du Vence — beautiful place. And then to Monaco. There couldn’t be two cities that were such a contrast than these. Last summer we caught the height of the lavender season all over Provence. It was magical!
Scary! Mega-scary!!! First the chihauhua-lady then the madman with a gun! You are a hero for saving those kids from danger. Well done!
You were very brave to stay to get the family out if the situation. Good going! And then to follow up with the police. Tres bien. They are cuter police than the ones north of Paris who stopped me when I stalled at a light. My train experience was a disgusting flasher sitting across from me in Portugal. I kept up and shrieked as I tried to get out of the compartment. The other people just sat there! Weird. Glad u r ok
Lesley Peterson (@culturetripper)
OMG Carol, that’s insane. But not that far from my experiences on French trains. The conductors and staff are pretty hands off. Good for you that you went and reported to the police station. You really didn’t need to think for the rest of your life that he might have actually harmed someone with his very possibly real gun. Too funny though that your first reaction was to take a photo of him! Truly a scene for a movie.
What is it about guys on trains in Provence? A few years ago on the Mistral from Nice to Paris, I sat opposite a scuzzy, nasty-looking guy in combat boots reading Mercenary magazine. He kept his feet on the seat next to me. Don’t know about a gun, but most likely.
OMG! I’m so glad that you didn’t get hurt! Once I had a job handing out survey sheets to train passengers in Provence. They were supposed to rate their travel experience. Nothing dramatic ever happen but once a man in a full coach removed his shoes. Half an hour later he was more or less alone in there. His fellow passengers just couldn’t stand the stench… They might have preferred an odorless gun, actually ;-) Kidding! Take care of yourself!
Thanks for the train love everyone. Val, insane story. Tops mine. As an update – I successfully took the train to Antibes and … nothing happened! Score!
Crazy story, awesome storytelling. A man stuck his hand right up my skirt on that train when I was 18, then followed me off it at my station. I found another guy and asked if he’d walk with me to my campsite, explaining the situation. Then the two guys spotted each other, smiled in recognition and shook hands. I ran home from Biot train station at jaguar-speed. I took that train line every day for a month and it was the Wild West.
Freaky story! was there no conductor on the train or did it all happen too fast> I think you were brave to get yourself and the family down to the lower level. I might have remained “stuck in the headlights”.
In print: an entertaining read. In reality: Pre..tty scary stuff! Wonder if gendarmes ever got their man. Here’s hoping. Glad you won your round against the Russian gal. That’s one seat in the EU for our side! :)
Red Hunt (@redhunttravel)
Quite the experience! great for you taking action, as who knows what could have happened!!
Glad it all worked out, Carol, and while it makes for great storytelling after the fact, we’ve all got big non-verbal exclamations, big red shiny lights going off in our brains. Aaaieee!!!
Wow, what a scary experience! BTW I think I’m in love with those handsome French policemen…especially the one on the left.
Haute Compass (@HauteCompass)
Brilliant article! I used to live in the area and almost felt that I was on that scary train with you! Glad all went alright in the end!