WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER PLUNGER
(SFX: French train station)
It turns out that TGV, France’s high-speed rail system, came up with some nifty technology that helps prevent accidents among trains that regularly travel about 200mph. If one train is forced to slow down or stop, the TVM cab-signalling system automatically reduces the speed of the trains behind it since it’s nearly impossible to read track-side signals at the same velocity as a Formula One race car.
This makes the TGV trains very safe. Unless you’re in the bathroom.
In September 2008, a French man was in the midst of using the water closet on a TGV train from La Rochelle in Western France toward Paris when he managed to drop his cell phone in the bowl. He immediately tried to retrieve the wayward phone from the pipes, the BBC reported, which under normal circumstances would be an easy (albeit messy) mission.
But bathrooms onboard various kinds of transportation often have unique features to deal with the unique requirements. In this case, the train had automatic vacuum-flush toilets. The powerful suction made short work of the phone and dragged the man’s hand with enough force that his arm wedged in the pipes.
That’s when the 200-mph train stopped so that firefighters could get onboard and retrieve the man who tried to retrieve his phone. After several unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the passenger, rescue crews got out the saw.
Benoit Gigou, a witness, told local media: “He came out on a stretcher, with his hand still jammed in the toilet bowl, which they had to saw clean off.” The toilet, not the hand.
In the end, the man lived, the toilet did not and the TVM cab-signalling system probably did its job, if only because the high-speed train (and presumably the ones stuck behind it) had to stop for two hours for the toilet-ectomy. Although even with 2 hours added to a typically 3-hour ride, it was probably still faster than trains in the U.S.
E.T. DON’T PHONE FRANCE
(SFX: Theremin real scare a)
In most of the ways that matter, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is like most other villages in Southeastern France. There are vineyards that produce amazing red wines, Medieval castle ruins, rolling hills and a history of interaction with the Avignon popes of the 14th century (thus the name for the village and the surrounding wine appellation — the Pope’s New Castle, or fortified city, depending on which history you’re partial to).
What other villages in the area do NOT have, however, is a law that makes it illegal for any UFO to fly through it or over it. Specifically, any flying saucer or flying cigar. Yeah, really.
It turns out that in Sept. 1954, a local metal worker came home to find “two Martian visitors at his garden gate,” the New York Times reported, and that they had come from “a cigar-like machine which came to rest on the railway” outside his house. The man, Marius Dewilde, told authorities that when he approached the Martians, a green beam of light paralyzed him. When he woke, the “cigar” was taking off.
Needless to say, hysteria followed, fueled by the swamp of public fear in the middle ground between the Atomic Age and the Space Age. Popular culture probably didn’t help. A sampling of the Sci-Fi movies released in 1954 included “Stranger from Venus,” “Devil Girls from Mars” and “Killers from Space,” the last being an early starring role for Peter Graves, who also played the pilot of a flying cigar in the 1980 movie “Airplane.”
Instead of immediately surrendering, Mayor Lucien Jeune and the council of Chateauneuf-du-Pape passed a decree that would prevent UFOs from zapping their citizens and, more importantly, their vineyards.
Article 1 of the decree stated: “The overflight, the landing and the takeoff of aircraft known as flying saucers or flying cigars, whatever their nationality is, are prohibited on the territory of the community.”
Article 2 covered impounding: “Any aircraft, known as flying saucer or flying cigar, which should land on the territory of the community will be immediately held in custody.” Which, of course, makes us wonder if they make a Denver Boot-style device for flying cigars.
Years later, the mayor’s son, Elie Jeune, admitted that the law had been a publicity stunt. “At that time, people were talking a lot about extraterrestrials and the unknown, it was in fashion, and there were loads of stories circulating,” he said. “He wanted to make a bit of an advertisement for Châteauneuf.”
Stunt or not, the law is still there. And, you could argue, it has worked — no UFOs spotted since it was passed — despite a rather stunning legal loophole.
While the law forbids the flying and landing of UFOs, it doesn’t say anything about the passengers. So, if visitors from outer space want to do some sightseeing (presumably for the history and the wine), they just need to park in the next village over, which we’re pretty sure doesn’t have a UFO ban, and walk over. Or slither over. Who knows.
But the legend continues. Thirty-two years later in the mountains of California’s central coast, Randall Grahm, the founder of Bonny Doon winery, honored Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the events of 1954 with the inaugural vintage of Le Cigare Volant, the Flying Cigar. Just don’t take a bottle through the village. Or over it.
NAAN CONTROL TO MAJ. TOM
(SFX: Apollo countdown reverb)
Nearly anyone who lived in the U.S. during the 1970s (and hasn’t repressed it) probably remembers the post-moon-landing craze for space foods. Freeze-dried ice cream, dehydrated beef stroganoff and other vaguely edible entrees that eventually were marketed to backpackers, who clearly were tired and hungry enough to eat anything.
Pillsbury and NASA developed something called a Space Food Stick, a mysterious 300-calorie wand of protein, carbs and fats that only went on one mission before it was marketed to the space-loving general public. (For what it’s worth, the Space Food Stick probably is an ancestor of the modern energy bar, which today is a $3 billion market in the U.S.) In truth, the early U.S. astronauts mostly ate applesauce and pureed beef and vegetables that came in toothpaste-like tubes. Yum.
It’s unclear if Niraj Gadher, who owns an Indian restaurant in Bath, England, was trying to elevate the quality of astronaut snacks (literally and figuratively) when he decided to send some take-out dishes into outer space. On his third attempt in January 2021, Gadher launched a helium weather balloon attached to a GPS device, a GoPro and a package with a wrap and a samosa, a deep-fried pocket pastry stuffed with potatoes or meats.
“I said as a joke once that I would send a samosa into space, and then I thought during these bleak times we could all use a reason to laugh,” Gadher told SommersetLive.com. “The feedback is that it’s brought a lot of laughter from people and that’s what we wanted really, to spread joy.”
During the flight into the upper atmosphere, the GPS gave out, Gadher said, although the camera video in his YouTube post shows the wrap and samosa far above the clouds — and a passing jetliner. As it turns out, the package, which was fitted with a tiny parachute, landed and was recovered in Caix, in Northern France. (Luckily it didn’t land in Chateauneuf-du-Pape or it would have been arrested and detained for being an Unidentified Frying Object.)
END BUMPER: The Bizarre Travel Tales podcast is part of the Inappropriate Traveler Podcast Network. Find this and other podcasts at InappropriateTraveler.com, and on social media at @DeathByJetlag. Enjoy the flight.
(Writing, recording and engineering: Spud Hilton. Photos and illustrations: Spud Hilton. Site and its contents are property of the Inappropriate Traveler Podcast Network and Spud Hilton.)