March 4th, 2003

JOY

Europe's Delaware

During our monthly Doctored-Statistics-Make-Employees-Happy Luncheon, somebody announced that the Loud Girl in the office is currently in Maine, but is going to be spending her vacation in France. I immediately felt bad for her for having to leave Maine, but everyone else seemed jealous. Maybe they just like lobster.

I thought about how ridiculous to me it seemed to intentionally *go* to France. In 1998, when my friends and I were planning my first trip abroad, I remember how I insisted that I did not want to set foot in France, and I was very adamant about not wanting to go to Paris. One of my traveling companions, Mindy, who turned out to be one of the top five most irritating people in the world (of course, this is something you do not find out about a person until you spend five weeks with them in a foreign place), begged and pleaded to go, and when Vijay, the third member of our pack shrugged and said, "we have to go through France to get anywhere else. We might as well spend a night or two in Paris."

Reluctantly, I went. I liked Paris to spite myself, even if it was full of Parisians. It was the year that World Cup was there, which added a nice potpourri to the odor of the place. It was where I found the worst smell of all time: inside a Paris Underground train car with broken ventilation in July during World Cup. I was offered "Le Eiksticie" and ate pear flavored ice cream. I found vendors on the street selling beer out of picnic coolers, bought one for the sheer thrill of buying a beer on the street, and was forced to chug it before I got on line to climb the first thirty or so flights up the Eiffel Tower, only to have it go straight to my head on flight #14 where a few of my countrymen had taken it upon themselves to run up and down the stairs cheering everyone on. Tunisia won a big game one of the nights we were there and the Champs Elysees was a blur of red flags with white crescents and stars. It definately had its high points.

But for as much fun as I had, my memories of asking for yogurt to find out "ees yow-eer, madame"; watching a Japanese tourist knock firmly on an ancient Mesopotamian canoe while the Louvre guards were off flirting with American girls and reminding that guard later in the day that his no-English routine wasn't going to work on me since I had just seen him tell the girls that he's been to zee New York; asking a tourguide where I could find a less expensive restaurant and getting "zeez eez non McDonalds" in response; and watching an androgynous bum urinate on itself in the Paris train station while riot police woke Mindy up with the muzzle of their automatic rifles because she was sleeping on the bench next to me; are far more vivid. And I swore I wouldn't go back.

Two years later, I was on another trip around Europe, this one with just coldblackncold, and France was notably missing from our itinerary. But Vijay's words were as true in 2000 as they were in 1998: we *had* to go through France. We stumbled across a minor roadblock when arriving in France from London on our way to meet some of my friends in Amsterdam, but were forced to rot in Lille-Flanders for six hours on our way back, not for any actual fault on France's part: England was experiencing massive flooding and transit was delayed throughout the southeast. But there we sat, using up our last francs and euros on the pay toilet, surrounded by Britons on their way home from EuroDisney, and making log cabins out of sugar packets. We didn't *want* to be there, but we were stuck there, to the tax of our time and our money. If we could have avoided it, we would. But we had to pass through.

I thought of all of these things upon hearing of my loud co-worker's deliberate trip to France. I realized that in my travels, France has never been more of an annoying whistle stop on my way from A to B. Then the comparison became clear: just as Australia is Texas for the World (™frockazulubobwhite), France is the Delaware of Europe. Delaware is that sticking point in any east coast road trip: you *have* to pass through it. Even if just for 20 miles, it's there, in the way. And thanks to their strategic location, Delaware has the unique ability to charge you for the inconvenience of being in their state. This luxury would not be available to them had they been placed between North and South Dakota; but there Delaware is: right between New York and any other point south on the east coast. There's no getting around either France or Delaware, or if there is, it's too inconvenient or costly. Perhaps if the Fight Club references were more clear, Dover could gain the same kind of romanticism that movies throughout the past decade have shone upon Paris. There may be very nice parts of Delaware, as I hear there are in France. But I've never gotten over the random toll booth enough to find out.
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