In which the author tells you where he is going.
by Mike Smith
In less than a week I leave for France. It is a place of introverts and tiny cars.
I find France full of irony. The French people don’t come across as a nation of friendly (or at least outgoing) people. When we ride on the Metro, one of the commuter train systems in the country, folks don’t talk to each other. And they aren’t looking at their smart phones or iPad. They simply don’t talk to each other.
My wife and I once got into one of the compartments containing two benches that face each other. There were already three people sitting on the bench across from us. There was a young girl and a middle aged couple. We sat down and our knees were almost touching those across from us. But we did not look at each other. That might force a conversation.
My wife and I were talking to each other and suddenly we noticed that we were the only people talking. We decided to stop talking since we were feeling a bit self-conscious. The compartment remained quiet for the whole 30-minute trip to Paris. It seemed weird to us.
Later in Paris we got on a different type of train and piled in like a typical subway car, crammed next to other folks we’d probably never be able to return the favor to. The car was still quiet, except for two things: the shuffling of self-conscious feet and a Gypsy gentleman playing his violin. Essentially a street musician. His young son of 5 or 6 made the rounds and tried to catch the eye of everyone on the train, looking to fill his little tin cup with whatever coins he could coax. We all tried to ignore the little Gypsy boy, but his dad could really play the fiddle. He was quite an accomplished musician–a decided difference between a Paris street musician and those we’ve seen in Seattle. The Gypsy plays a Stradivarius and the Seattle guys play a home depot plastic bucket.
In hindsight, I guess the Seattle guys are at least recycling.
But we love France. My daughter, whom we go to see, now lives near Fontainebleau. She actually lives in a village called Veneux le Sablons. Which is the result of two towns that were merged in the 17th Century. (Recent history, in French terms.)
The roof is open so that rain water can collect in a pool in the middle. There is a wood stove on one end for heat and drying. It looks like a little outdoor theater set up on the outside presumably for socializing. Maybe it is for live performances. I guess a TV in a laundromat has a long and storied tradition.
We like the French culture, though. It is cute to see all the school children walking home for their two-hour lunch period. Each is carrying a fresh vertical baguette with a single bite out of the end. It appears to be a requirement that “she who fetches the baguette gets the first freshest and tastiest bite.”
The French do not tolerate drunk drivers, though. They have a unique way of punishing a chronic drunk. After your second offense they revoke driving privileges for a period of time. After this time you can get a provisional driver’s license. In some towns this license allows you to buy only a certain type of car. It has the horsepower of a sewing machine and makes an annoying high pitched “putt putt” sound that draws your attention, thereby securing long-term shame and recognition of the recovering drunk driver. Must be effective. You don’t see many of these little tin cans on the road.
Now France has enacted a rule that every car has to be equipped with a breathalyzer so you can self-test before you drive. I don’t know how effective it will be. Their “legal limit” is .05 so you might as well not drive even if you’ve taken some cough medicine.
I thought you all might enjoy a little insider French intelligence. We’ll be gone for two weeks. I should have plenty of stories to write about when I get back. I’m going to visit my grandkids and they are a riot.